Earlier this fall, I accompanied an experienced petroleum driver on a three-hour round trip run from a Midwestern pipeline terminal to a busy convenience store. This experience helped me understand the challenge we face in maintaining safe behavior behind the wheel, as well as outside the truck.
This 15-year veteran demonstrated safe driving patterns during our entire journey, despite the fact that I was attempting to sidetrack him with chatter about the upcoming hunting season. He watched the horizon for developing traffic conditions; routinely scanned his mirrors to see what was going on to the rear and on the sides of the truck; and, most importantly, left ample space between his vehicle and those in front in anticipation of sudden swerves or stops.
When we arrived at our destination, the driver inched the tanker to the unloading point since store traffic was quite heavy. With the truck parked and motor turned off, he grabbed his clipboard and opened the door.
Here's where I noticed a change in his behavior. Sure, he was very careful when measuring the tanks (to ensure adequate room for the product) and hooking up the hoses. But every time he went back to the cab, he raced up and down the steps without any thought of using grab handles to ensure a safe three-point hold during entry and exit. And he didn't give much thought to proper lifting techniques when handling the drop hose.
When the driver asked how he'd done, I said, “high marks in all categories except one.” I asked if he'd ever watched himself getting in and out of the truck cab or whether he'd thought about the way he lifted the hose back into the storage tray. He admitted that this seldom crossed his mind. At this point I told him how a slip/trip/fall or lifting/bending injury could cost him to miss six to nine weeks of work.
I realized the enormous challenge we face in addressing such at-risk behavior. While this guy was perhaps the most professional driver I've seen while behind the wheel, he wasn't very careful when he climbed in and out of the cab or lifted heavy objects.
As managers we have continually emphasized (and justifiably so) the importance of defensive driving skills. However, we've been willing to accept (or even expect) less in the area of employee safety. Guess what? Our low expectations in that area have been fulfilled. And, more importantly, that trend will continue until we make a commitment to increased awareness and improved training.
First, we should increase awareness through injury-reduction campaigns, including displaying phrases like “Don't Fall for That,” in prominent locations.
Next, we should apply the kind of effective strategies used to teach defensive-driving techniques to slip/trip/fall and lifting/bending training. Many of the best defensive driver training programs, such as the Smith System's Five Keys or the Institute of Driver Behavior's Pattern Driving, recognize human limitations in the driving task. Rather than teach drivers things they already know, these programs build and reinforce safe behavior with easy-to-remember systems that are designed to maintain focus on the driving task.
Look at your employee injury history. I bet the slips/trips/falls and lifting/bending incidents are high on the list of frequency and cost. Next, look at your drivers' habits in these areas. I bet they don't give much thought to getting in and out of their cabs or lifting.
Stop taking a passive approach to this behavior. These injuries are hurting your drivers and your business. Attack the issue with effective training, just as if you were trying to reduce highway crashes.
My guess is that with effective coaching and intervention, the outside-the-cab professionalism of your drivers will meet or exceed their behind-the-wheel behavior.
Jim York is the manager of Zurich North America's Risk Engineering Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.