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Using hindsight to improve safety

Nov. 16, 2021
Safety and efficiency are the hallmarks of successful trucking companies. Management and employees embrace hindsight when they see how it can make good things even better.

Hindsight has a bad rap. Sure, it might sound good when we say “hindsight is 20/20,” but we only say that when something goes wrong. “Hindsight” has become the equivalent of “oops.”

That’s because we use hindsight at exactly the wrong time. Instead of trotting out the retrospective approach when things go wrong, we should use it when things go right. Here’s a real-world example:

Herman manages a small trucking fleet. A friend at another carrier tells him that he can improve safety and efficiency by “catching people doing things right.” So Herman approaches a longtime driver, thanks him for another successful trip, and asks for a bit of hindsight, “What can we do to make that trip even better?”

The driver, a bit bewildered at first, replies that the company provides him good equipment, excellent maintenance, and even customers who appreciate him. Herman senses a “but…” coming and raises an inquisitive eyebrow. The driver hesitated, then said, “Everything went fine today, after ‘The Turn.’’’

So Herman seeks out his driver supervisor. “What,” he asked, “is ‘The Turn?’” “Oh, that,” replied the supervisor. “Our drivers have complained for a long time about the angle of the exit from our yard.” The sharp, right-hand, downward slope of the exit makes them nearly blind. Drivers have to crane over their left shoulders for oncoming traffic before they turn right and head down to the main highway. “Any accidents?” asked Herman. No, the supervisor responded, only near-misses and the occasional complaint from neighbors about trucks pulling out in their path. “I figure this wakes them up a bit,” the supervisor concluded.

Herman digs a bit deeper. The few crashes and driver complaints his fleet have experienced align closely with the near-misses and neighbor complaints around ‘The Turn.’ There is no evident cause and effect, but hindsight reveals that a rough start to the day can lead to a rough ending. It cost Herman’s company some dollars for a curb cut and fresh concrete. And, just to be sure, he has a sign posted at that exit, reminding drivers to look both ways before turning. But the new exit from the yard gives his drivers one more reason to stay on board with the company.

Hindsight becomes a catchphrase at Herman’s company, with employees regularly suggesting ways to improve on positive outcomes. Even his driver supervisor learns to seek improvement as well as to apply correction.

To be sure, a bad outcome demands hindsight. We do need to look for a cause when things go wrong. Improvement in safety and efficiency also can come from applying hindsight to successful ventures. In fact, people work better together standing shoulder-to-shoulder, examining the same opportunity, than they do face-to-face, where blame and fear can obscure the problem.

Safety and efficiency are the hallmarks of successful trucking companies. Management and employees embrace hindsight when they see how it can make good things even better.

Steve Vaughn is vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass and toll-payment/management services. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

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