The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

How Safe is Your Fleet?

Is your fleet safety program doing all it can? Taking even a small amount of time to track the results of safety initiatives can help fleets learn where action is needed and improvements can be made.

January 2012, by Shelley Mika - Also by this author

Factors to consider when conducting a safety audit include:

  • Metrics and measurements to review.
  • Amount of time to invest in an audit.
  • Deciding who will be the auditor.

Now, more than ever, fleet managers are realizing that safety programs are an essential part of a well-run fleet. A safety program can protect assets, keep operations up and running, improve the bottom line, and, most importantly, keep employees safe and sound.

How do you know if your safety program is working? Conducting a safety audit allows fleets to take a look back at the metrics associated with their safety programs, then initiate changes to improve safety in these areas for a more robust and effective safety program overall.

The Safety Audit Checklist

The first step in conducting a fleet safety audit is simply knowing what types of metrics and measures to look at. Of course, that ultimately depends on what type of safety program is in place. For instance, a fleet with online driver training might look at different metrics than one that only performs annual MVR checks.

General areas fleets might look at include:

  • Accident rates and severity.
  • Change in injury and/or fatality rate.
  • Change in MVRs since rolling out the program.
  • Driver compliance with the safety policy, as well as state and federal regulations.
  • How consistently action is taken for drivers who don’t comply with the policy.
  • Completion rates for driver training.
  • Percentage of fleet policy cknowledgments on file for all active drivers.
  • Number of roadside response incidents.
  • Compliance with preventive maintenance goals to help ensure vehicles are kept in good working condition.

Craig Hisle, transportation safety & compliance director North America, for Exel Inc.’s said the company’s safety audit is comprised of four main areas: safety pulse/awareness, facility review, training education, and incident investigation. Exel Inc. is a contract logistics provider and part of the supply chain division of Deutsche Post DHL, the parent company of DHL (an international express, overland transport, and air freight provider).

To gauge the effectiveness of Exel’s safety culture, Hisle said his team performs on-site, in-person monitoring. For starters, the team observes each site’s pre-dispatch or daily safety meetings. The meeting is evaluated on how it’s conducted, material covered, and driver interaction. Another key evaluation is made through brief discussions with drivers on past safety meetings and/or any lessons learned from near-misses or accidents.
In addition to on-site evaluations, Exel also reviews each site’s adherence to state, federal, and company compliance standards and measures the site’s ability to pass a regulatory inspection. Likewise, an audit is performed of each site’s training records, and orientation, ongoing training, and proper documentation are validated.

Hisle’s team also performs an assessment to measure each site’s execution of post-accident investigations and implementation of appropriate preventive measures.

Together, these measures offer an overall picture of the effectiveness of Exel’s safety programs — and are tailored to its fleet’s particular safety initiatives.

The Time Investment

On average, Hisle said a safety audit takes roughly one full day for a site with 20-30 drivers. Each site is audited on a 90-day rolling calendar, totaling four audits per year.

The amount of time invested in a safety audit — and how often it’s performed — again depends on the fleet’s particular safety program.

“Fleets with active safety programs will meet very frequently when dealing with specific issues, but typically might have a larger-scale safety performance review, at least monthly, when a program is new, perhaps every two months or quarterly with a program that is more established,” said Ted Lewin, senior manager, risk management service at Wheels.
Stephanie Rogers, vehicle program administrator at Allergan, performs monthly audits of driver online training, which take roughly one hour to complete. 

Allergan assigns all drivers online safety modules upon hire, then every quarter thereafter, or as annual MVR checks warrant additional training. As modules were assigned and deployed by the fleet management company, Rogers learned drivers weren’t completing them in a timely manner. That’s where safety audits can help.

“Once the modules are overdue by one month, I send reminder e-mails. I keep a log of the drivers who are on the report from our fleet management company,” she said. “The following month, the manager is copied on the e-mail; the third month, HR is copied on the e-mail. It doesn’t usually go that far.”

Taking the Reigns

Safety audits may be performed by various roles within a company, but is likely led by the fleet or risk manager. Lewin of Wheels said a typical audit team might include the fleet manager, risk manager, field management, and human resources. For Exel, Hisle said the operational management team is ultimately responsible for the fleet’s safety performance and results.

Regardless of title, Hisle noted that a safety auditor doesn’t have to offer all the answers.

“As an auditor, it’s important to understand that it’s okay to not know an answer or to have to look up a regulation or standard,” he said. “It’s better to review and research an issue than to give false guidance.”

Why Audits are Applauded

Whether a fleet conducts large- or small-scale safety audits, the benefits are clear. Audits allow fleets to know their safety programs are truly working — and offer key insight into what measures should be taken to shore them up.

“Following stated policy is important for many reasons, and audits are a key step to make sure the program is achieving the intended outcome, but also that the organization is maintaining good discipline in deploying the safety program,” Lewin said. “You also get benefits from the simple act of bringing together different functions, including identifying process efficiencies and improving the coordination of data internally.”

Hisle agreed that safety audits can affect many measures important to the success of their business, while also uniting the company on a consistent safety front. “The safety audit offers a clean and consistent process to measure how your business is fostering a safe work environment. With proper application and partnership within the operation leadership, the benefits of good safety culture can affect hiring, retention, productivity, public opinion, and the P&L,” Hisle said. “Our safety audits have given our business a great vehicle to communicate site safety performance to senior leadership, and they’ve enabled us to share best practices across multiple business units and sectors.”

As an example, Rogers pointed to the positive results of ensuring online driver training is completed. The first module Allergan assigns focuses on vehicle maintenance, which helps drivers understand exactly what they’re responsible for in terms of maintenance. That makes for safer vehicles on the road, not to mention better-performing units.

Likewise, modules assigned due to MVR infractions show that action has been taken to try and correct the behavior.

“We can record that the driver has completed training in an area they were having a problem, and in the event that something more severe happens, we can show that they were assigned training,” Rogers said. “Plus, the drivers get a refresher course on select topics, and that makes them better, safer drivers.”

With so many potential benefits, Lewin said the only drawback of a safety audit is not acting on the issues that emerge in the process. An audit can bring many things to light, but the effort is only meaningful — and worth a fleet’s time — if measures are taken to improve the identified areas.

“A company has to be willing to take appropriate action when defects are found. The biggest mistake a company can make is to perform an audit and take no action to mitigate safety hazards,” Hisle said. “Many companies use safety audits as a policing exercise to measure compliance. Our safety auditing processes are designed to identify improvement opportunities within our operations and develop clear and actionable plans.”

Safety Audit Advice for Fleet Managers

Five tips can help a fleet manager conduct quality audits and ensure results. Some tips include:

Start small, then slowly aim higher. Craig Hisle, transportation safety & compliance director North America for Exel Inc., suggested focusing the initial audit to target regulatory requirements. After a few audit cycles are complete, add company best practices to the audit as well. “Your audit should evolve with the business, and critical safety processes should be included in the evaluation,” he said.  

Include the site’s operation leaders for their input and buy-in. “This creates a partnership and builds commitment to the process for key stakeholders,” Hisle said.

Variety is key. Stephanie Rogers, vehicle program administrator at Allergan, said any company choosing to implement online training should make sure the company it partners with offers a large selection of safety modules, as well as reporting mechanisms to monitor progress. “The modules should conclude with a test on the material,” she said. “The company or fleet management company should be able to provide good reporting for you to follow up with the drivers.”

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. Wondering whether your safety audit is working? Hisle offered this advice: “If you’re trending in a positive direction, stay the course. If your performance indicators are underperforming you may need to reassess your audit system,” he said.

Don’t let drivers off the hook. Rogers said persistence is key — as is making sure drivers perform their duties. “Stay on top of the drivers and get their managers/HR managers involved in the process,” she said.

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