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Components of a Good Fleet Safety Program

Originally Published by Cole Publishing

white van with blurred background to represent fleet safety program

Millions of motor vehicle accidents occur each year in the U.S. With so many drivers on the road every day and commercial insurance premiums and vehicle repair costs on the rise, organizations can’t afford to neglect driver and vehicle safety policies. Developing an effective fleet safety program lowers an organization’s risk level and protects company employees and assets.
John Brengosz, Loss Control Consultant for R & R Insurance, encourages organizations to take fleet safety seriously, because the consequences of a lackadaisical attitude can be deadly.

“Most people think the No. 1 way folks die at work is from falls,” he says. “It’s actually vehicle or driving-related fatalities.”
According to Brengosz, vehicles create the single largest risk exposure for a company, and personal injury lawyers complicate the issue.

“That’s part of the problem now with fleet safety. These commercials run all the time, and they’re encouraging people to make a claim if they’re involved in an auto accident,” he says.

Brengosz says he knows that developing and executing a fleet safety program takes time and personnel.
“The good news is, a lot of fleet safety programs don’t cost a lot of money,” he says.

Vehicle Policies

An effective fleet safety program focuses on three elements: vehicles, drivers, and policies governing them both.
If an organization provides vehicles, then it needs to set some standards. Brengosz asks clients these types of questions:

  • Are you an organization that likes to run those vehicles forever and just try to keep them up?
  • Do you have a replacement schedule?
  • How much are they driven?
  • How far are they driven?
  • How much are they driven on personal time?

He advises clients to develop vehicle use, replacement, maintenance, and inspection policies. “Remember what could happen if you got a vehicle in an accident and it turns out we haven’t kept up at all with maintenance,” he says.

Organizations can establish frequency guidelines for routine service based on the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended mileage or engine hours. They can track maintenance themselves or have the service provider track it. In addition to routine maintenance, organizations also should conduct periodic vehicle inspections.

“How do we know what the vehicle’s condition is if we’re not formally looking at it?” Brengosz says. He recommends checking the oil and inspecting the headlights, taillights, tires, and the overall condition of the vehicle. Look for dents or scrapes, because drivers don’t necessarily fill out accident forms like they should. In Brengosz’s experience, vehicle inspections sometimes turn up surprises.

Behind the Wheel

The second element of fleet safety involves the drivers. Question to answer include: Who is allowed to operate the vehicle? If an employee takes the vehicle home, is anyone other than the employee allowed to drive the vehicle?

“Don’t toss the keys to just anybody,” Brengosz says.

He advised organizations to screen drivers at the time of hire by requesting their motor vehicle record from a governmental or private service. An MVR, also known as a driver’s abstract, reports a driver’s accidents and violations. Once they pull an MVR, the next step is to compare the record to the company’s formal policy and the standards of an acceptable driving record.

“When I hear somebody say, ‘We just eyeball an MVR and make a call on it,’ the problem with doing that is a human’s ability to rationalize,” Brengosz says. They might rationalize that their No. 1 sales person or best repair person should be allowed to drive, despite their bad driving record.

“How is it going to look at a trial if you pulled an MVR, it was poor, and you still allowed the employee to drive?” Brengosz says. “My big advice is, if you’re going to take the time and expense to run the MVRs, have a formal screening system that allows you to compare an MVR to your own policy and make the call.”

Organizations should screen all employees with a vehicle assigned to them, employees authorized to use a vehicle or operate a pool vehicle, and employee’s spouses who are allowed to drive a vehicle the employee takes home.

“Trust me when I tell you, I have had some cases where some of the spouse’s driving records are horrendous. If you’re not checking them, you wouldn’t catch that,” Brengosz says.

Fleet Safety Manual Keys

Three basic policies should be included in an effective fleet safety manual. The first is driver eligibility and MVR criteria. The second is a personal use policy. Is a driver allowed to use the vehicle for personal use? Out-of-state vacations? What family members are permitted to drive, and what screening do they need to complete? The third policy, a non-owned vehicle policy, refers to an employee’s use of a private vehicle or rental vehicle for company business.

“For starters, we need them to provide proof of adequate insurance coverage of their own,” Brengosz says. “It’s also a good idea for them to prove, at least once a year, that they have a valid driver’s license.”

To reinforce these policies and other components of a fleet safety program, Brengosz recommends annual training.

“It’s good to have an annual training on defensive driving and what our company rules are for maintenance and operating vehicles, so everybody’s aware of them,” he says. In a training session, organizations can reinforce safety rules regarding seat belt use, traffic laws, locking vehicles, distracted driving, and backing up a vehicle.

“Driving is very much a habit. We want them to form good habits,” Brengosz says.

Equipped for Accident Reporting

Post-accident reporting should be discussed at least annually.
“You don’t have to have a horrible, terrible crash to have lawsuits,” Brengosz says. Thus, every company vehicle should be equipped with an Accident Reporting Kit.

“It’s good to have something that the driver can fall back on to make sure they document the scene, get the names of witnesses, and just do a good job of having the insurance company handle the claim,” Brengosz says. Employees involved in an accident should take good notes and clear photos.

“Insurance company claims adjusters say, all the time, that the party that does the best job documenting the damage and what happened generally wins when it comes to these accidents,” Brengosz says.

To improve their fleet safety program, many organizations invest in GPS monitoring to track speed, location, idling time, and other details. They also mount HD cameras on the front and back to show what drivers see at the time of an accident.

“There are all sorts of really cool monitoring you can do,” Brengosz says. “If you’re going to pay for that service, be sure you’re using the data and talking to your drivers.”
An effective fleet safety program requires time and resources to develop and implement, but the results are worth it because of the rising costs of vehicle repairs, insurance premiums, and insurance claims. Protect your vehicles, employees, company assets, and reputation with a comprehensive fleet safety program.

Sound Safety Solutions Come from Detailed Accident Investigations

Man with hardhat and safety vest to demonstrate the importance of accident investigations

Originally Published by Cole Publishing
Nearly all worksite injuries and fatalities are preventable. John Brengosz, Loss Control Consultant for R & R Insurance, says one way to prevent workplace incidents is to determine the underlying causes and correct them. This requires a thorough incident investigation.
“Ideally, we would want to prevent somebody from getting injured. But at the very least, we want to learn from an injury so it doesn’t happen again and again,” Brengosz says.

Prepare a Response Strategy

OSHA encourages organizations to investigate all worksite incidents that result in injuries, plus close calls in which workers escape injury. Organizations are required to notify OSHA within 24 hours when incidents involve an amputation, loss of an eye, or admittance to a hospital.
Conducting a thorough incident investigation requires forethought. Injuries can occur at the most inconvenient times, so organizations should prepare an incident-response strategy in advance. Brengosz recommends developing several topic areas and questions based on the types of injuries that typically occur. Using this list, organizations are prepared to gather information, even in hurried or stressful situations.
In addition to this list, organizations also should fill out a standard incident investigation form. The form should include the injured employee’s name, time and date of the incident, department, and description of the incident.
“We don’t need to know the (employee’s) birth date, the hire date, or the rate of pay, for it has nothing to do with how this person got hurt,” Brengosz says. “We wasted a whole bunch of time just filling in boxes, and we haven’t even gotten to the investigation.”

Question Witnesses

Brengosz recommends investigating an incident as soon as possible, after medical care is provided, but while the incident is fresh in the minds of the people involved.
“You have to go out and talk to people and look at the scene as soon as you can,” he says. In addition to interviewing the worker involved in the incident, investigators also should interview witnesses.
“I rarely see any witness statements when reviewing completed investigations,” Brengosz says. “Maybe it’s a case that, ‘We’ve had enough.’ By the time we talk to the injured party, we think we’ve already ‘wasted too much time on this’ and just want it to be done. I understand that. I don’t like it, but I get it.”
A supervisor or lead person should complete the investigation report, not Human Resources or a Safety Committee, Brengosz says.
“Those folks can answer questions or help that person do the investigation, but it really should be the supervisory person to take responsibility for the injury and the fix,” Brengosz says.

Ask For the Injured Employee’s Account

In addition to answering the supervisor’s questions, injured employees should write their own version of the incident as a stand-alone document.
“It’s good to get their unfiltered description of how they were injured in case the story changes two years from now when we’re at a work comp hearing,” Brengosz says. Realistically, the supervisor’s and employee’s descriptions of the incident should be a close match.
“If not, you have to go back to the drawing board, and there’s more work to do,” he says.
Investigations can be tricky if the injured employee or the supervisor broke a safety rule or operational rule. They won’t necessarily jump in and admit it.
“The best way to address that is to have other people reviewing the completed reports,” Brengosz says.

Conversate, Don’t Interrogate

He tells supervisors to take a friendly approach when conducting an incident investigation.
“It’s way more effective if the supervisor can make it a conversation and not an interrogation,” he says.
He also suggests recording the interview, as long as the employee agrees to being recorded. A recording allows for a free-flowing conversation. It also creates an audio file that can be reviewed by others in the future. The conversation should begin with the employee describing what occurred. Afterwards, the interviewer can ask questions and gather details.
“If you’re just talking to them and having a discussion and asking questions, you don’t have to spend all this time writing things down and potentially missing important things that they’re saying,” Brengosz says, referring to the benefits of a recorded interview.

Avoid Sarcasm, Blame & Threats

Brengosz recommends using a tone of voice and mannerisms that invite employees to open up.
“Go in with the attitude of ‘We’re not doing this to trap you. We’re really doing it to find out what happened,’” Brengosz says. Avoid sarcasm, blame, and threats. Instead, investigators can encourage collaboration by asking employees for solutions: “What are your ideas to prevent this from happening again?”
“That gives them a chance to weigh in, too,” Brengosz says.
If investigators don’t think employees are being completely truthful, Brengosz recommends revisiting the facts.
“If the story changes, use tact and try to clear that up,” he says.

Get Everyone Involved to Review

In addition to filling out reports, investigators should take photos and videos to document the conditions at the work site.
Once the initial investigation concludes, the next step is a management incident review. The injured employee, supervisor, safety committee rep and human resources rep should meet with a high-ranking person in the company.
“I’m a huge fan of letting top management see those reports so they know what’s going on and also what we’re doing to stop the constant repeat of the same injuries,” Brengosz says. “I think it’s important for people working for your organization to know that you’re diving into this stuff and solving it.”
After reviewing the incident together, the management group should discuss what changes and training need to occur. Brengosz also recommends that safety committees review the incident investigation reports.
“Maybe somebody in that safety committee has seen a similar type of an injury or situation. They might know something that nobody else knew or realized to help the situation,” Brengosz says. “I don’t think this gets done enough.”

Learn and Take Action

The final step in the incident investigation process is to learn something from the incident and take corrective action.
“Don’t complete these reports, throw them in a file, and they never see the light of day again,” Brengosz says.
Although it’s easy to blame the incident on carelessness or failure to follow a rule, it’s better to determine the underlying causes of an incident. Then, identify what changes need to be made to prevent further incidents.
“It’s very common for me to see an organization that has all sorts of injuries related to lifting and material handling. I will ask them, ‘Hey, do you do training on material handling, lifting, use of hoists, etcetera?’” Brengosz says.

Accidents Are Costly

Preventing incidents from happening is a key to productivity and job satisfaction. A safe workplace also saves an organization money. Accidents can be costly. Brengosz estimates that organizations paying $1,000 for a worker’s compensation claim actually pay double in other “hidden” costs.
Organizations can demonstrate their commitment to workers’ health and well-being by maintaining a safe workplace, prioritizing safety training, and thoroughly investigating incidents. Incident investigations help organizations determine the root causes of an incident, so they can develop solutions that prevent the incident from recurring.