Each fleet has a DNA of sorts, which is comprised of the procedures and regulations that are codified in its corporate fleet policy. It is these policies that determine the type of fleet that is operated and its characteristics.
Think about it. By creating policy, such as who is eligible to operate a company vehicle, you are, in effect, determining the size of your fleet. In my experience the best-managed fleets tend to be those that adhere to a written fleet policy. It is important that fleet policy reflects a company’s overall business strategy, but just as important, it needs to be up-to-date.
A case in point is the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, which is forcing fleets to improvise policies and procedures to minimize the risk of contagion to the virus. As fleets struggle to cope with the pandemic, it is revealing the inadequacies of current fleet policies and the need to update them to reflect the realities of today’s business environment.
A Fleet Policy Must be a Living Document
A fleet policy should not remain static. It must be a living document that is updated as new needs arise. A fleet policy must be constantly reviewed to ensure it does not become out of date due to changing business conditions, which can leave a company vulnerable to potential risk exposure.
In order to stay on top of changes in your business environment and advancements in business practices, regularly review fleet policy to keep it current. Sometimes changes are unanticipated and beyond our control as evidenced by the coronavirus pandemic, which is initially requiring temporary modifications to procedures that may later become institutionalized as formal fleet policy. This is nothing new.
Historically, fleets have been proactive in updating fleet policy to reflect changes in their business environments. For instance, when use of hand-held cell-phones while driving first emerged as a distracted driving issue, fleets incorporated prohibitions in fleet policy. When texting while driving emerged, its prohibition was also codified in fleet policy. Similarly, as more states began to legalize the use of medicinal and recreational marijuana, many fleets proactively incorporated policies addressing this issue. The current pandemic is a prime example of where today’s fleet policies are being exposed as woefully inadequate in addressing the new needs brought on by this health crisis. Fleets are on the front lines dealing with the COVID-19 global pandemic. OSHA’s 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. As a fleet manager, your mission is to establish the policies and procedures to lower potential infections among those using fleet assets and to minimize the risk of spreading the virus to others with whom drivers interact. Most fleet policies do not discuss the necessity of maintaining sanitation policies and guidelines for fleet vehicles. Once the pandemic is behind us, should you consider adding these guidelines to your fleet policy?
Likewise, should you consider expanding sanitation guidelines to include equipment carried in company vehicles that drivers use to fulfill the fleet application, such as handheld computers, scanners, and toolboxes? If you operate a vehicle pool, should you manage it the same as you did prior to the pandemic or should today’s procedures become new fleet policy? Here’s another example: In reaction to the pandemic, many fleet are restricting the transport of work crews in a single vehicle to a work site. With “social distancing” proven to be an effective practice in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus by breaking the chain of transmission, should fleet policy be updated to provide guidance on the number of employees allowed per vehicle?
Developing Fleet Policy is a Collaborative Effort
The fleet management industry is in a constant state of flux as a result of new safety and connectivity technologies, regulations, and business practices that demand fleet policy adaptations. When developing or re-evaluating fleet policy, there are many issues that must be addressed, and these issues can vary by company. As such, you should solicit the participation of all affected departments, such as procurement; environmental, health and safety (EHS); risk management, and human resources, in addition to vehicle user groups such as sales and operations.
Consider creating a driver focus group, with rotating members, and hold periodic meetings to solicit feedback on the fleet program. As part of your annual fleet policy review, you should survey your drivers to give them an opportunity to express their opinions or dissatisfaction about fleet policies that govern them. To gain the participation and support of the drivers, you also have to get the support of their management.
By involving all of these stakeholders in the decision-making process, it increases the likelihood of buy-in and support of policies. It is also important to solicit this involvement to ensure the policy is comprehensive and to ensure important components are not inadvertently omitted. Once you have updated fleet policy it is important to send it out as a draft to all stakeholders for review. Not only do fleet policies bring structure to the way you lead your fleet and manage your vehicle assets; they also serve as a reference source for drivers and their managers to consult when a question needs a quick answer.
Fleet policy needs to be flexible so it can be modified to reflect changing and evolving business priorities. In a time of crisis, such as the current pandemic, the best practice is to develop a forward-looking action plan. You need to know what you are going to do, and then act proactively to accomplish these goals.
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