A fleet policy should not remain static. It must be a living document that is updated as new needs arise. Here is a case in point.
Last April, a driver in New Jersey was involved in a single car accident while wearing an N95 mask. After several hours of driving while wearing the mask, he passed out allegedly due to oxygen deprivation and crashed into a wooden pole. He was the sole occupant in the car at the time of the crash. While an N95 mask filters air inhaled and exhaled, over prolonged use it can allegedly make it difficult to breathe due to carbon dioxide buildup in the mask from exhaling, which inhibits the intake of oxygen.
What should be your fleet policy regarding the wearing of an N95 mask while driving a company vehicle? The more fundamental question is whether a driver even needs to wear a mask if they are the sole vehicle occupant. You need to discuss this with your legal; HR; risk management; environmental, health, and safety (EHS) departments for their assessments.
One thing I can tell with certainty is if an employee was driving a company vehicle conducting company business while wearing an N95 mask and struck another vehicle, I am confident there will be an enterprising attorney who will advocate forcefully that it was the company’s fault and should be held liable. My request to the industry is to reexamine your fleet policies to ensure they are relevant in today’s environment.
A Fleet Policy Must be a Living Document
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 more important, it needs to be up-to-date.
A fleet policy must be constantly reviewed to ensure it does not become out of date due to changing business conditions, which can leave a company vulnerable to new risk exposures.
In order to stay on top of changes in your business environment, regularly review fleet policy to keep it current. Sometimes circumstances are unanticipated and beyond our control, which will initially require modifications to procedures that may later be institutionalized as formal fleet policy.
Today’s pandemic is a prime example of where today’s fleet policies are being exposed as woefully inadequate in addressing new fleet needs brought on by this health crisis. Fleets are on the front lines dealing with the COVID-19 global pandemic and your policies must be up-to-date. 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 institutionalizing 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 fleets 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, should fleet policy be updated to provide guidance to field managers on the number of employees allowed per vehicle?
Developing Fleet Policy is a Collaborative Effort
Historically, the fleet management industry is always in a constant state of flux and even more so today as a result of new safety and connectivity technologies, regulations, and business practices that demand fleet policy adaptations.
When developing or re-evaluating fleet policies, there are many issues that must be addressed, and these issues will vary by company. As such, you should solicit the participation of all affected departments, such as procurement; EHS; risk management, and human resources, in addition to vehicle user groups such as sales and operations.
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.
Not only do fleet policies bring structure to the way you lead your fleet and how you 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.
In summary, fleet policy needs to be flexible so it can be modified to reflect 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 those goals.
Let me know what you think.
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