Driver safety and cost containment are the top two priorities of most fleets, with the state of the economy typically dictating which of the two will be the No.1 priority for fleets.
In addition, fleet managers are continually examining a wide range of initiatives to reduce the frequency of accidents, which run the gamut from vehicle selection to implementing advanced driver-assistance safety technology to innovative driver training programs.
Following is the final installment in a three part series that details 15 trends currently impacting most commercial fleets, analyzing trends 11 to 15. Part one and part two are also available online.
Trend 11: Communicating Fleet Policies
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) General Duty Clause requires employers to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards likely to cause death or serious physical harm, under which COVID-19 would fall. For many employees, the company vehicle is their workplace.
Consequently, it’s absolutely critical that an organization has a well-communicated policy in place that defines acceptable driving practices as well as standard driving performance expectations, and that drivers fully comprehend the organization’s policies.
Just because you have documented fleet policies and procedures doesn’t mean your users are following them. To ensure that fleet policy remains uppermost in the minds of users, it is important to regularly re-communicate it to them. When policy is constantly re-communicated, you will find that you spend less time discussing policy infractions with department heads and users. Not only do you need to communicate it to them, but, more importantly, you need to re-communicate it on a regular basis. This is especially important in industries that experience a high turnover in employees. One example is the need to provide ongoing ladder safety training to ensure all new employees are familiar with its operation and as a refresher for existing employees or those taking possession of a new vehicle. Past accidents have proven that fleets must continually train drivers on how to safely operate drop-down ladders and how to correctly lock them.
“From vehicle safety features, telematics, to behind-the-wheel training, to online safety classes there is an abundance of opportunities to have safety be a common daily topic and to continue to strive for improvements and updates in this space,” said Sharon Etherington, senior manager, regional administrative services for Roche Diagnostics. “Also, it is an opportunity is to reward those drivers for good driving behavior.”
During the lockdowns, fleet managers took advantage of the downtime to be proactive on safety implementations.
“With more vehicles being grounded and/or pooled, it was an ideal time to proactively prepare vehicles, especially newer ones that have a longer life before being replaced, as well as planning out how to order new vehicles with the same technologies,” said Lori Olson, VP of Kinetech, LLC, Pulse fleet sales director. “Additionally, this has created the opportunity for many companies to revise safety procedures and update their fleet handbooks. These need to be living documents anyway, as technologies and vehicles are changing faster now than ever before.”
Trend 12: Restrictions Transporting Crews
Social distancing is the key to slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus by breaking the chain of transmission. Fleet policy guidance is recommended when multiple people or work crews drive together to a job site. Some companies limit the number of passengers in a single vehicle. In other instances, if there are two passengers in a vehicle, some companies ask the passenger to sit in the back seat to practice a degree of social distancing.
The longevity of COVID-19 safety protocols into the future post-COVID work environment still continues to be uncertain.
“For us, we can’t have more than one person in a vehicle at a time. This creates a problem when trying to pick up and deliver vehicles to employees after they have been serviced or disinfecting vehicles after we work on them. Also, we need more vehicles for employees to use to get to jobsites. In the past, we would have two or three employees in one vehicle. Now we need extra vehicles to transport workers to jobsites, I have to hang onto vehicles that were scheduled to be replaced in order to accommodate other departments,” said Bruce Ottogalli, transportation manager for Suez Water NJ.
Similar social distancing restrictions are also in place with service providers. “When one of our vehicles requires to be towed, nowadays tow services do not allow passengers, which requires us to find alternate transportation for the driver,” said Scott Surrell, fleet services manager for Utz Brands, Inc. /UtzTran LLC.
Trend 13: Stakeholder Collaboration
A key cornerstone to implementing an effective corporate fleet safety program is getting consensus from the many stakeholders involved with fleet. This oftentimes includes EHS, HR, legal, risk, compliance, and sourcing/purchasing.
Fleet should seek out cross-collaboration opportunities with other departments. One cross-collaboration opportunity is with EHS, which is responsible for employee safety issues elsewhere in the company, such as the factory floor and workstation ergonomics. In recent years, EHS has been extending its reach into fleet because company drivers are one of the largest sources of workers’ comp claims.
Driver-related ergonomics issues that result in workers’ comp is on the rise at truck fleets. Vehicle ergonomics has a direct bearing on driver productivity, employee satisfaction, and frequency of workers’ comp claims. Optimized ergonomics can increase accident avoidance. Poor ergonomics increases driver discomfort, which increases fatigue, a key contributor to preventable accidents. There are numerous fleet-related safety issues whose responsibility invariably overlaps with other corporate departments.
“Companies need to address these issues and include their risk management, safety management, and legal teams,” said Phil Moser, associate director of global driver safety for Syneos Health.
Trend 14: The Trend to Work from Home
The pandemic has opened Pandora’s box on working from home – both good and bad. While it has yet to be determined whether this is a long-term or short-term trend, it promises to impact fleet operations.
The virtual work environment has resulted in fewer miles driven and more time in front of a computer for company drivers. Most companies still have restriction on guests at their offices (many are still 100% virtual), which means having an in-person sales call will require that it be held offsite. One consequence to the work-from-home business model is the possibility that there will be decreased traffic collisions and fatalities due to less traffic as many companies permanently shift to a distributed workforce model. “However, this reduction is dependent on increased driver safety awareness and training since the early months of the pandemic’s emptier roads led to higher speeds, more traffic violations, and distracted driving,” said Lori Rasmussen, president of PARS.
Trend 15: Recreational Marijuana
In addition to the ever-present concern about impaired driving, there is a new liability exposure with the use of recreational marijuana or its transport in a company car. This concern is growing among fleet managers as more states look to decriminalize marijuana use.
Currently, marijuana is either legal or decriminalized or can be used be medicinal reasons in all states except Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, Tennessee, Arkansas, and South Carolina. From a federal level, marijuana continues to be illegal.
Prohibitions about the use of medical marijuana while operating a company vehicle must be documented in writing and drivers must acknowledge receipt. In the final analysis, fleet policy must be a living document and updated regularly.