Fleet Management

Risky Business: The Pitfalls of Not Managing the Dangers in the Shop

OSHA Fines, Worker's Comp Claims, Lost Productivity, Lawsuits, Higher Insurance Costs, Equipment Downtime.

February 2008, TruckingInfo.com - Cover Story

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief - Also by this author

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You've got a safety director to oversee the safety of drivers and trucks on the road - are you doing the same for your maintenance operations? If not, you may be victim to any of the above problems that can also wreak havoc on your company's bottom line.

You can reduce the chances of them happening in your fleet's maintenance shop with a focus on safety - and beyond that, on risk management.

"One of the challenges is that when you mention safety in the trucking industry, the primary focus is driver safety," says Cory Hale of yourriskmanagers.com LLC, Memphis, Tenn. "Mid- to large-size trucking companies have a full-time safety director who will focus on driver screening and driving training. He'll do equipment audits and recordkeeping audits related to log books and maintenance inspection records. But other employees do not receive the same attention as far as their safety practices are concerned, and that's true in the maintenance shop as well."

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For most companies, responsibility for shop safety falls on the shoulders of whoever's in charge of maintenance. How well that works varies greatly across the industry.

"There are some shops that are excellent - they're just run fantastically, not just in OSHA compliance but also in injury prevention programs," says Tom Bray, editor of transportation management for J.J. Keller. "And I've seen the opposite, where as a fleet person I was afraid to even stand in the shop."

One of the problems in maintenance shops is that management tends to be reactive rather than proactive, Bray says. For instance, he says, if a shop has a rash of eye injuries, management may emphasize protective eyewear. But in a few months, it's forgotten, and the cycle starts over again.

"The main thought process that needs to take place is they need to look at the shop just like they do drivers," Bray says. "With drivers, you assess risk and put policies in place to counteract the risk. The shop manager needs to do the same."

What is Risk Management?

"Safety is a lifestyle," said Bill Fowler, director of maintenance for Con-Way Freight, during a presentation on risk management in the shop for the ATA's Technology and Maintenance Council. "In our business, it has to be. But risk management is more than just safety."

Risk management is a broad topic. "Anything that puts the business at risk, it's our job as fleet managers to work with," Fowler said.

In broad terms, risk management covers not only safety, but also business planning and forecasting, investment strategies, military strategy, medical liability and on and on. But for our purposes, we're talking mostly about accidental or unanticipated losses - accidents, injuries, fines, theft, vandalism, fires, liability claims, etc.

In short, risk management, Hale explains, is the process of making and implementing decisions that will minimize the adverse effects of accidental and business losses.

"Risk management is concerned with making informed decisions. Risk management is intentional - it plans for contingencies, it contemplates worst-case scenarios, it controls hazards and perils that can lead to worst-case scenarios, and it considers cost versus benefits. Risk management brings a business perspective to safety."

It is impossible to avoid risk entirely, Hale says. "Say you choose to avoid risk altogether. You don't work around dangerous equipment, you don't drive to work - you don't even get out of bed in the morning. You'll probably protect yourself from accidental losses at work. But if you're doing that, you can't do business loss avoidance at the same time. Business loss avoidance requires you to get out of bed, go to work, master dangerous equipment and take calculated risks.

"Safety cannot be the No. 1 priority. If safety is your No. 1 priority, you won't do anything at work. Making a living is No. 1, for both employees and the company as a whole."

Assessing The Risks

Before you can make the decisions that are at the heart of risk management, you have to be informed. The first step is an evaluation of the hazards and exposures in your maintenance operation.

A thorough evaluation depends on site audits, loss history analysis, and industry statistics, Hale says. "The trucking customers that I have, the first step is to go in and do kind of an audit, not only of the activity in the shop and the hazards that may or may not be there, but also of the programs in place to address those hazards. Once these are complete, it's time to make an informed decision on the plan of action, which could involve policy and procedure development, equipment procurement, employee training, etc."

You may opt to get a consultant like Hale to do this, work with your worker's comp insurance carrier, or put together an internal team.

There are two areas that make a good place to start. One is OSHA compliance. The other is actual loss experience.

"OSHA, like any other regulation, is a good starting point," says Keller's Bray, "and gives a person a good idea of what safety and regulatory issues they should look at."

The top two reasons for OSHA fines in truck maintenance shops are personal protective equipment (by a mile, accounting for 46 percent of 2005-2006 OSHA citations) and hazard communication (which deals with hazardous materials handling, from degreasers to fuels, and made up 20 percent of citations). Other major citation and fine generators were electrical, air contaminants, flammables and combustibles, machinery and guarding, and walking-working surfaces.

What's interesting is that the top areas where OSHA is most likely to cite a company are not necessarily where a company is most likely to experience the most injuries. While the top OSHA concerns are PPE and hazard communication, Hale says, labor statistics show the top two areas in loss experience are ergonomic concerns and vehicle accidents.

That's why the second half of the risk management process is taking a close look at what you're seeing in your own shop. Examine claims histories, and use your powers of observation in the shop.

"It's basically a process of looking around," Bray says. "What's dangerous and what are we doing about it? Just because no one has hurt themselves at the battery-charging station, for instance, there's still a risk of battery explosion. What are we doing to prevent that? Instead of waiting for someone to get injured and then figuring out how to keep it from happening again. There are regulations that guide some of that stuff, and there's good old-fashioned common sense."

Hale says he worked with a shop that had three losses in a short period of time - all falls. The problem was in the trailer maintenance area, with technicians climbing on ladders and scaffolds and climbing in and out of the back of the trailer itself. "Once we identified that was where they were having their most expensive worker's comp losses, the next step was to develop a fall protection program that covers ladder safety, mobile stair safety, and even slip, trip and fall hazards," Hale says.

Reducing The Risks

There are many things that can be done to reduce risk in the shop. Written safety policies, equipment guards on shop tools, the right tools for the job, good lighting, clean facilities that reduce slip and falls, personal protective equipment, safety meetings, incentive programs, chocking tires, training on everything from shop safety practices to the proper way to lift, good recordkeeping, even personal health and wellness programs.

One of the most common problems Hale sees when working with his customers, both trucking and non-trucking, is a lack of consistency.

For instance, he says, "I think every shop manager understands that there is a certain level of personal protective equipment that should be used in the shop, but their approach is to make safety glasses available but not to enforce their use."

As a result, he says, you find situations like the one he did recently where one technician was wearing safety glasses, but had on tennis shoes and no hearing protection. Another one had steel-toed boots and hearing protection, but no eye protection. "They knew they were in a situation that could be hazardous, but they had not been trained on when to use the equipment, and the shop manager had not taken the time to determine when it was mandatory," Hale says.

This approach is not going to fly with OSHA and it's not going to keep your shop as safe as possible. One of the things OSHA requires, he says, is a workplace hazard assessment to determine what personal protective equipment is needed and when it is required to be worn.

It's not enough just to have written policies and procedures - enforcement is vital. And carrots are just as important as sticks in that regard.

Con-Way's Fowler has found incentive programs to be successful in keeping workers safe. He offered the example of a shop bonus for everybody if the shop exceeded safety goals by a certain amount. "Say there was a guy who was not being as safe as he could. Normally, a fellow worker might say, 'That's not my job.' [But with an incentive program], the workers would be our eyes and ears, and tell that guy, 'If you screw up and have an accident, we're all going to be penalized.'"

At Southeastern Freight Lines, there is a policy of recognizing, rewarding and celebrating successes, says David Foster, vice president of field maintenance. "It does not matter if it is meeting a particular goal, making a suggestion that saves the company money, or for a facility or individual to work injury-free. If you recognize those successes, you will have a better opportunity to improve them. We have seen a remarkable improvement in our safety records in our shops since we started recognizing and celebrating these successes."

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