Transport firms look to training for fleet safety

With most of their workforce on the road all day, every day, companies with large fleets of drivers face unique safety challenges. In addition to supervising workers who are largely out of sight, they must deal with the growing risks presented by congestion and distracted driving. More than ever, fleet operators need good safety policies and programs to help keep workers safe on the road.
Safe driving must be a priority at all levels of a company, says Spencer McDonald, president of Thinking Driver, a corporate driver safety training and consulting firm based in Surrey, B.C. To achieve that, fleet operators need to include best practices for fleet safety in their company’s health and safety program.

“The most important element is the fostering in an organization of a corporate culture that’s fundamentally supportive of respectful, responsible and professional vehicle operations,” he says. “That means you have to begin at senior management level, and they have to take that seriously.”

When senior managers show they take safety seriously, by knowing and adhering to company policies, their attitude trickles down. Middle managers and supervisors are more likely to encourage drivers to adhere to policies and take infractions seriously.

A company can foster engagement, McDonald says, through regular training, review and evaluation. Training should be available throughout an employee’s entire career, and employee performance should be regularly checked by reviewing driver abstracts annually and establishing penalties for poor driving records, McDonald says. Drivers should also be evaluated by a professional every few years.

“A good vehicle safety program puts something in front of a driver’s face on a regular basis, reminding them that safe, responsible, professional driving is part of the job,” he says.

Delivering safety
One of the main challenges for companies with a large mobile workforce is the increasing number of vehicles on the road, says Roger Routhier, manager of fleet policies, procedures and analysis at Canada Post Corporation. And, as the population ages and more people retire, a growing number of older people will be driving during the day.

Canada Post’s Professional Driving Program, he says, has five main components or “pillars”: screening, training, occurrence or mishap management, prevention and compliance.

Each candidate is screened for eligibility based on experience, driving history, vision and basic driving skills, Routhier explains. Training is consistent across the country and generally exceeds provincial standards. It consists of eight hours of classroom instruction and, every five years, drivers receive refresher training and must renew their permits.

Canada Post’s vehicles range from light, small vehicles to tractor-trailers, and training varies accordingly. The company issues different internal operator permits based on the different skill levels.

“That’s our way of controlling who’s received what training to make sure that the people operating a given vehicle have received the training prescribed for that particular type of vehicle,” he says.

All collisions are reviewed to determine preventability and analyzed to judge the effectiveness of all aspects of the safety program, Routhier says.

“We put out a couple of different prevention initiatives each year. We try to address what’s going wrong and try to stop it,” he says.

Canada Post ensures compliance with training on two levels, he adds. At the regional level, fleet safety specialists visit depots and check up on supervisors, asking to see documentation for action. In turn, these specialists are themselves visited by inspectors from the national level.

Eric Bolland, president of Bolland Driving Solutions based in Kentville, N.S., says one of the main difficulties for corporations with driving fleets is establishing a clear safety message and implementing it consistently across the entire organization.

“What often happens with large, geographically or organizationally disperse fleets is some areas of the organization have a much better safety record than others,” he says. “Is there a consistent message, similar training and enforcement presented across the organization?”

It is also important, Bolland adds, for fleet safety officers to be able to identify the company’s most common driving problems. The safety program should focus on those problems and be available to all employees in the company.

Training is the cornerstone of the fleet safety program at UPS Canada, says Lou Rivieccio, vice-president of operations. Managers and drivers receive rigorous initial training and, every subsequent year, must pass a certification test.

“Our management team, as well as our drivers, are expected to know the methods top to bottom, side to side, just about verbatim — because, to apply them out on the street, you have to know them,” he says.

All drivers must pass a road test similar to that for a driver’s licence, then go through a combination of classroom and behind-the-wheel instruction that focuses on a set of core competencies, Rivieccio says. They learn, for example, the “five seeing habits,” which encapsulate basic principles of safe driving, such as, “leave yourself an out.”

Instructors also use a “10-point commentary” to re-enforce good driving methods. While demonstrating each method, the instructor explains its steps and what advantage it provides.

“Then, the driver will get back in the seat and demonstrate for the supervisor. It’s not only, ‘Do you know this?’ but, ‘Do you know how to apply it on the street?’ So it’s really hands-on,” he says.

From a safety perspective, Rivieccio says one of the main challenges for fleet operators is that, unlike most workforces, they work off-site, beyond managers’ supervision. A system of regular observation at the company helps mitigate this risk.

With drivers away all day, he adds, it’s all the more important to make reminders of safety part of the routine. UPS Canada holds regular morning demonstrations, either with an instructor demonstrating a particular manoeuvre or using a white board drawing.

Every accident involving a UPS driver is investigated, Rivieccio says, to identify the root cause and determine what the company or driver could have done differently. The collision is later used as an example in training for the rest of the workforce.

“We want our (safety) committees to be proactive. Anything we can do to be proactive and mitigate risk — that’s the side we want to be on. We don’t want to be on the reactive side, after something’s happened,” he says.

McDonald agrees a good safety program includes a reporting system that investigates incidents thoroughly. The investigation should aim to identify the real cause and recommend ways to prevent similar incidents recurring. Investigations that point to causes such as weather or heavy traffic are worthless, he adds, because they exonerate the driver and the company of any responsibility.

“When you’ve got an incident, you need to understand the risk that failed to be mitigated and what could be done in future to mitigate that risk or remove it,” he says.

Distracted driving
The rise in distracted driving poses a major safety problem, but the hazard is not new and both Canada Post and UPS have long sought to minimize it. For many years, Routhier says, Canada Post has had policies and procedures that restrict the use of communications equipment while operating corporate vehicles.

Still, he adds, the corporation regularly reviews its policies on the issue and reminds employees that, on top of all their other duties, using phones on the road increases the risk of collision and injury.

“We were already there, in recognizing that distraction while driving is a serious issue,” he says. “But it remains one of those things we continue to address and keep at the top of people’s minds. When you’re out on the road for five or six hours, you can’t afford to let distraction become another issue for you. So stay focused.”

At UPS Canada, Rivieccio says, all drivers are taught that distracted driving is not tolerated. Methods taught through training programs help reduce its risks, and safety officers also use training activities, such as demonstrations, to remind drivers of this message. In 2010, UPS implemented a ban throughout its organization on the use of hand-held devices while behind the wheel.

“It’s something you can never take a day off from. So we have to be constantly policing and keeping people aware of the importance of not being distracted,” he says.

At Canada Post, drivers with clean records are recognized annually, receiving pins that reflect the number of years they have driven collision-free. After five consecutive years, they are presented with a plaque.

Recognition is also an important part of UPS’s safety program, Rivieccio says. Drivers with 25 years of safe driving are inducted into the Circle of Honour.

“It’s a milestone. So we have a big presentation with all the driver’s peers. We bring the whole facility together and bring the family in, too,” he says. “Recognition is a big deal for us — because what gets recognized gets repeated.”