Safety by the numbers

No old saw cuts truer than safety pays. Even a middling fleet safety program may pay untold dividends in terms of lives saved, injuries prevented, property damage avoided and business reputations protected. But how does a fleet even know if its safety program is first or second rate, let alone whether or not it approaches best in class? And how do fleet managers know which areas of safety performance

No old saw cuts truer than “safety pays.” Even a middling fleet safety program may pay untold dividends in terms of lives saved, injuries prevented, property damage avoided and business reputations protected.

But how does a fleet even know if its safety program is first or second rate, let alone whether or not it approaches best in class?

And how do fleet managers know which areas of safety performance they should dedicate valuable resources to for further improvement?

Start by accepting safety performance as no different than any other business factor that impacts a trucking operation.

Short and sweet, safety programs and their effectiveness must be managed. For that to happen, the results of the programs must be measured, and re-measured again and again. And once quantified, the results must be analyzed and translated into managerial action, again and again. If everyone in the organization buys into this view, safety performance can morph from a nebulous concept into visible pay dirt.


No one can do this for fleets. To be sure, safety management is not a function that lends itself to outsourcing or ignoring.

Of course there are expert sources that stand ready to assist fleets, ranging from insurance companies to industry associations to equipment lessors and dedicated contract carriage providers.

Experts generally counsel fleets that the secret to safety success is in the numbers — and by that they mean benchmarking performance, both internally and externally.

Don't be kidded. Benchmarking takes effort and it must be done consistently and professionally or the results won't lead anywhere safer.

Unfortunately, benchmarking trucking safety has become more difficult this year, thanks to the federal government determining its SafeStat program is not valid enough to be accessed for making comparisons.

SafeStat (short for Motor Carrier Safety Status Management System) is an automated, data-driven analysis system designed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

According to FMCSA, SafeStat combines current and historical carrier-based safety performance information to measure the relative (peer-to-peer) safety fitness of carriers.

Launched with much fanfare a few years back, SafeStat was intended to measure motor carrier safety fitness by assessing four broad evaluation areas to arrive at specific safety ratings (see box). It also had the makings of benchmarking on a grand scale.

But in February, DOT's Inspector General decreed that SafeStat was suffering from “data problems,” making it a suspect resource for accurate benchmarking. The DOT Inspector General's report said the SafeStat data were both incomplete and out of date, making them inadequate for public consumption

At press time, the SafeStat web site had not been taken down. But a warning had been posted stating that “because of State data variations” SafeStat data should not be used for other than governmental purposes.

SafeStat may have been placed out of service, but safety benchmarking may — and should — go on. Accessing the SafeStat site was an easy way to do it, but by no means the only way.

Insurance providers are expert at quantifying fleet safety performance. Such benchmarking is a key element of their risk management of customers.

Jim York, manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, says the safety performance of fleets can be evaluated with a systematic “by the numbers” approach that examines these six “key exposures and loss leaders” (presented in descending order of importance):

  1. Driver qualifications, development, training and oversight (turnover, compensation, etc.)

  2. Incident management (accident reporting, accident scene handling, etc.)

  3. Fatigue management (driver out-of-service rate, etc.)

  4. Vehicle inspection, repair and maintenance (out-of-service rate, specs, etc.)

  5. Ongoing safety efforts (driver meetings, drug & alcohol testing, etc.)

  6. Additional exposures (such as cargo, hazmat, owner-operators)


York explains that in doing risk assessment, Zurich rates each of these areas using a proprietary systems. “Based on the metrics of a particular company,” he advises, “we can expect such and such performance out of a given type of fleet. This allows us to identify where there are gaps between a specific exposure or loss leader and the necessary controls management should have in place to reduce the risk.”

Given that driver issues weigh in a the top of his list of exposures, it's not surprising that York says the “real issue for trucking is how to manage the driver factor. The industry has been great at managing ‘the iron’ but it's the driver who makes or breaks safety on the road.”

David Osiecki, vp, safety & operations for the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), says the key benefit of safety benchmarking is it “helps fleets focus on the areas in which they are not doing the best.”

He says there are “lots of ways of spending the safety dollar. And while spec'ing safety-oriented equipment and adhering to maintenance practices that help ensure safe vehicle operations are crucial, the most important element is the employee. Above all that means finding the right drivers, training the and disciplining them as needed.”


Osiecki says the most helpful industry stats for safety benchmarking are the recordable crash rate per million miles, derived from compliance data, and the fatal crash rate per one hundred million miles, provided by the fatality analysis reporting system.

He notes that the recordable accident data is the most comparable because it is a standard each trucking company must adhere to. It consists of any fatality, any injury treated away from the scene, and any tow-away damage caused to any vehicle involved in a crash.

Osiecki says other sources for benchmarking to consider are a fleet's driver turnover rate and its insurance risk-assessment history, which the insurance carrier can provide.

“Along with benchmarking against their own data,” Osiecki points out, “ATA member fleets can discuss data on how they perform via ATA's Safety Management Council.”

He says two reports issued by ATA in 1999, SafeReturns and Making the Difference, provide a wealth of information on fleet safety practices and can be used to develop general industry performance benchmarks.

Peter Van Dyne, technical director, transportation for Liberty Mutual Business Markets, says the insurer has been benchmarking industry safety costs and best practices since 1996.

“We view crash frequency per million miles and crash cost per million miles as the accident exposures most common for trucking as a whole,” he relates. “We look at crashes with injuries or damage over a thousand dollars to eliminate the little stuff” that can skew results.

“We look at both severity and frequency. A fleet may not be able to control the cost of a severe individual accident. For example, the same accident can have vastly different costs if an older vs. a younger person is injured,” Van dyne continues. “And different states have different liability statutes. Looking at frequency of crashes tells you more about the overall safety program in place.


“It's the fleets that take an active role in safety, even to sharing accident cost and frequency data with employees, that do better than those that focus only on the technical side of safety,” Van Dyne emphasizes.

In other words, no matter how well spec'd and maintained a truck is, it is only as safe as its driver.

VanDyne says these are the key loss sources all fleets should be benchmarking:

Worker's comp

“Driver falls, especially from exiting the cab, are the number-one source here. Influencing this requires education and enforcement.”

Seat belt use

“NHTSA data shows more large truck fatalities come from single-truck accidents in which the drivers needed to be secured.”

Cargo handling

“For both drivers and dockworkers, freight should be analyzed for its potential to cause injuries.”

Liberty Mutual's benchmarking of customers involves reviewing how much a fleet's crash cost and frequency rises or falls over a period of several years. “The next step is to analyze the cause of the crashes, did they involve backing up etc., to determine what specific corrective action may be indicated,” says VanDyne.

As for gaining a sense of how a fleet stacks up against others, he says Liberty Mutual can tell its customers how they compare (in the aggregate) to all the customers in its annual benchmarking survey.

“This year, 86% participated,” he notes. “These are mainly fleets operating 50 to 300 power units with median mileage of 8 to 9 million.

Beyond telling them where they stand compared to similar size fleets, VanDyne says Liberty Mutual looks at their "program areas and comes up with common practices and practices they should consider to help improve their performance.”

Some of the key safety metrics we focus on come from government but others are self-imposed,” says Jeff Lester, vp for safety, health and security. “But besides measuring you must do the diagnostic work, too.”

Lester says Ryder tracks frequency of collisions per million miles. “It's an easy metric to use internally. But fleets need to be conscious of one factor when benchmarking. Outside your own organization the criteria may differ. For example, some may only track preventable accidents. I recommend tracking all of them.”


Likewise, when tracking severity Lester recommends “capturing everything of dollar value. That's because for, say, every 30 incidents you have 29 significant ones and one major one. Not looking at everything does not reveal the full risk.”

He also regards DOT recordable crashes as “a good measure for severity because it is consistent” across different fleets.

Ryder also puts stock in two other metrics that track injuries. “We look at the total incident case rate or OSHA recordable rate, which covers lost time and medical treatment sought. We also review the loss-workday rate per 100 employees, as it is a consistent criteria.”

“It's critical to have a robust reporting and tracking system that enables you to put a laser focus on areas of opportunity for improvement. We break it down to very granular data, such as back strains due to driver unloading improperly.”

Lester says what's often overlooked is “benchmarking against your own processes. Don't just pull lagging indicators, he advises. “Look at the effect of the processes, the maturity of the [safety] culture within the organization.

Percentage Distribution of Injuries
Injury Cause Officer/Managers Drivers/Helpers Repair Workers Cargo Handlers Clerical/Admin. Avg. for All Occupations
Lifting 8.3% 21.2% 9.2% 25.5% 23.8% 21.7%
Slips and Falls 21.6 22.1 17.6 15.6 19.8 20.3
Improper Equipment Use 12.5 15.5 30.9 20.0 14.3 17.2
Struck by Object 9.5 8.4 12.7 13.8 15.0 10.8
Vehicular Accidents 14.8 6.4 0.4 0.6 1.5 4.6
Repeated Trauma 0.8 1.1 5.0 0.2 1.3 1.0
All Other 32.6 25.3 24.3 24.3 24.3 24.4

“At Ryder,” he continues, “we track leading indicators. We map out the safety activities we want managers to perform to attain improvements. Safety should be managed with accurate data. Build your action plans around that and then put a measurement system in place.”

Putting it plain and simple, Lester adds, “Safety must be treated like any other business process — in fact, it should be embedded into all business processes.”

The National Private Truck Council (NPTC) launched the latest safety benchmarking initiative just last month for its member fleets.

Dubbed the “Best Practices Safety Guide,” it's an interactive online safety benchmarking program. Its initial component is the “Fleet Audit.” By completing an online 181-question survey at a special web site, fleets are scored on their performance in six key safety areas: leadership/management; the driver; maintenance; event management, culture; and evaluation/assessment/measurement.


Fleets that take the survey receive scores in each area as well as general feedback based on their answers. Respondents can also compare their scores to the average scores for all participating NPTC members. They will then receive specific, customized feedback that will provide them with a list of best practices for those areas where improvement might be desired.

According to Bob Inderbitzen, NPTC director of safety & compliance, the audit was developed by the members of the NPTC Safety Committee to be an easy-to-use benchmarking tool.

“It's a peer review focused on the soft side vs. the strictly statistical side of safety management,” Inderbitzen explains.

“For example,” he continues, “where a statistical approach might ask only about accident frequency ,we would ask ‘Do you have a process in place for analyzing the cause of accidents?’”

Inderbitzen says going through the questions will help a fleet “see where they have safety gaps. Then they can put the issues into priority order and concentrate first on what actions will have the most impact on their safety performance.”

Stats and facts of all kinds notwithstanding, the bottom line is safety is serious business that deserves every measure of attention fleets can give it, today and every day.

Benchmark blueprint

Although the DOT has said the data in its SafeStat system is not robust enough for valid fleet-to-fleet comparisons, the underlying structure of the program still presents a valid plan for fleets to use in crafting their own benchmark for safety performance.

According to SafeReturns, a compendium of safety practices released by the ATA Foundation in 1999, these are the four broad evaluation areas, and the numbers backing them up, that were proposed as the original basis for the federal SafeStat system:

Accident performance: measured by accidents per million miles;

Driver performance: measured by results of compliance reviews, roadside inspections, driver accident history and moving violations;

Vehicle performance: measured by results of roadside inspections; compliance reviews, terminal audits and size & weight violations;

Safety management: measured by results of compliance reviews, roadside inspections and safety management programs implemented by the carrier.

It's safe to say that any fleet that regularly tracks what happens in these four areas will have a good yardstick in hand for measuring its safety performance.

It adds up

An analysis of NHTSA and FMCSA crash data performed by Dimitri Kazarinoff, director of global marketing for Roadranger, points up the staggering total cost of accidents for highway fleets.

He says at a rate of 1.706 non-injury crashes per million miles, the total cost per accident is $11,299. Crashes with injuries coming at a rate of 0.491 per million miles average out to $217,000. And fatalities, which occur at a rate of 0.024 per million miles, amount to $3,419,202 per incident.

Kazarinoff says those figures, daunting on their own, add up to “a huge total cost due to accidents per truck per year of $22,800.”

Keep that in mind and it's crystal clear that investments in safety save money, not to mention lives.

View more Fleet Owner news relating to trucking safety, trucking regulations and driver awareness.

TAGS: News Safety
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