Make it Personal: Extending the Safety Message
For those companies that permit personal use of company vehicles, a safety culture should extend beyond working hours. Here’s how to make the safety message a 24/7 one, both for employees and their families.
Communicating safety within a company takes many forms. Make communication interesting and interactive. It’s often the repetition of the safety message, not the message itself, that makes an impact.
You’ve no doubt heard it said that fleet managers should work toward creating a “culture of safety” among drivers. There is no question that this is an important part of any company fleet safety program. Creating a culture of safety means making safety something that drivers think about, and strive towards, as part of their working day.
However, sometimes such a culture doesn’t quite “take,” that is, while it may be there from 9 to 5, it’s left at the office. Why should a fleet manager be concerned? Aside from the desire to see employees remain safe all the time, many companies permit personal use of company vehicles, which means driving on weekends and at night, often by a spouse, with passengers including children — and the company’s potential liability doesn’t end with the working day.
Establishing a Policy
A corporate fleet policy that prohibits personal use might seem to be the answer to whether safety should be emphasized beyond working hours. But even that is inadequate. There are instances of “de minimis” personal use, such as commuting, driving to and from an airport, or briefly stopping for personal errands. The IRS “commuting rule” may provide for the accounting of such use, but the fact is that any mileage driven by an employee, whether for business or personal purposes, brings with it the possibility of an accident.
Companies that permit personal use sometimes limit it to the employee; others extend the privilege to licensed spouses or other direct family members. In the former case, family members are often passengers, in the latter, they drive the vehicle. Once again, either instance can create safety issues.
Thus, policy alone doesn’t alleviate the need to extend the safety issue beyond just business use by the driver to personal use and the driver’s family.
The first step in making safety personal begins at the recruiting and hiring level. Before any prospective employee is hired, if the assignment of a company vehicle is part of the job, the driver’s motor vehicle report (MVR) should be accessed and reviewed. First, to make certain the candidate does indeed have a valid driver’s license, and, second to review the record for violations. Fleet policy should include some means by which an otherwise qualified candidate who may have a less than stellar record can be hired. For example, a probationary period, during which the new hire drives a personal vehicle and is reimbursed, or a period during which personal use is prohibited.
Next, if that policy permits personal use by other licensed family members (spouse, adult children, etc.) an MVR should be accessed for them as well, with the same rules for the employee. Even if personal use is limited only to the employee, at the very least family members should know of the company seatbelt use policy. In general, family members should know first that the company is concerned for their safety, and it is expected they will comply with company fleet safety policy.
Getting the Message Out
Establishing the company focus on safety at hire is a good first step. Next, it is important to continue to communicate the message beyond the workplace.
Communicating safety within the company takes many forms. Some companies still use newsletters. Others send safety messages via e-mail. Still others communicate via the company website or Intranet, and some use more than one venue. Suffice it to say, it is the communication of the message that keeps safety at the forefront.
But certainly, family members don’t see intercompany e-mails, don’t spend much time on the website, and are usually not party to newsletters. The question becomes — why not? With the myriad technologies available today, keeping family members in the communication loop can be fast and easy. Ways to do so include:
- A “family section” on the company website, which can communicate a number of items, including that safety message. Safe driving tips, contests (with prizes), and personal stories and messages posted by spouses and children can all help keep safety at the fore.
- Mail a hard copy of company newsletters to spouses. It costs pennies, and much of the above can be part of the message.
- Social media is increasingly the communication venue of choice. You’d be hard-pressed to find a spouse or child of an employee without a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Safety messages can be sent quickly and easily to hundreds, if not thousands, of people; even a “Company X Safety” account can be set up.
As is often said of drivers, most family members know full well what they should and should not be doing when they drive: don’t speed, don’t tailgate, buckle that seatbelt, signal when turning. It is the repetition of those messages that work, not simply the message itself. No matter how it’s done, consistent emphasis on the safe driving message is the best way to bring safety home from the job.