I have been working with a new, family-owned fleet that's had to come to grips with some very challenging issues during the past year. In addition to coping with high driver turnover, rising fuel prices and mounting insurance costs that have come to characterize our business, the owner established an aggressive growth plan: He wanted to double the size of the business during the 2000 calendar year.
Like many growing companies, the firm also experienced management turnover in the operations and safety departments. Not surprisingly, programs to monitor hours of service and driver performance have been in a constant state of flux.
Initially, the fleet tried to define minimum eligibility standards for its current and prospective drivers. Although draft standards were developed, they were often waived when recruiting drivers proved so difficult.
Perhaps even more troubling was the disagreement over how to enforce the standards for drivers who were already on the job. When the safety department identified several drivers with deficient safety records, intense lobbying efforts by the operations department enabled these drivers to keep their jobs. Although appropriate safety policies were established, they were never fully implemented.
Recently, however, all that changed. The owner realized that several high-profile accidents had put the entire fleet in jeopardy. Consequently, he made a commitment to a series of immediate and sweeping safety changes.
A company-wide meeting was held to develop a set of minimum eligibility criteria for drivers. These criteria included benchmarks such as the maximum number of moving violations, preventable accidents and out-of-service violations allowed in the previous 12-, 24- and 36-month periods. Most importantly, the company owner spelled out very clearly exactly who was responsible for implementing these standards.
Then came the most difficult step: weeding out the bad apples. A comprehensive “safety scorecard” was developed for each driver, based on accident reports, moving violation records and inspection violations. Scorecards were then placed in one of three groups: those with a clean driving record, i.e., no history of accidents or moving violations; those with one or two safety infractions, such as speeding or logbook violations; those with safety records that were clearly below par.
Six cards were placed in the last stack. When the names were read, there were some grim faces in the room. One of these drivers, who had been with the company since day one, was known for on-time delivery and high customer appreciation marks. Naturally, a debate took place over whether exceptions should be made for one or two individuals.
But then everyone realized that saving one or two drivers would result in safety setbacks that were clearly not in the best interests of the fleet. In the end, the group decided to terminate all six safety-deficient drivers.
At that moment, the company made more progress in improving its safety program than it had during a full year of policymaking efforts. It had taken the most important step of all — moving from setting policy to implementing it.
I urge you to examine your fleet's safety policies. Are they just words on paper, or do they reflect a commitment to closely monitor driver performance? If they're the former, challenge management to determine which hurdles are blocking the way. You'll no doubt face tough questions and a heated debate. But I can assure you that moving from policy to implementation will improve safety and bottom-line performance.
Jim York is a senior risk engineering consultant at Zurich Insurance, Fredericksburg, Va.