Hartman does not hesitate to tell drivers that they are the most important part of McLeod’s business at the beginning of each orientation and througout their employment .  Photo: McLeod Express

Hartman does not hesitate to tell drivers that they are the most important part of McLeod’s business at the beginning of each orientation and througout their employmentPhoto: McLeod Express

We need to identify ways to help promote safety in our fleets. First, we need drivers to understand how important they are to our success. Then we need to look at ways to add valuable time to our schedules by training others what we know, while expanding safety knowledge throughout our company. We need to take our new-found time and analyze data to find areas that need attention. Then we need to implement solutions. Lastly, we need to revisit the data to make sure we have made the impact we expected.

We all know drivers are the most important piece of our business. After all, they pay our salaries. I do not hesitate to tell them that at the beginning of each orientation and remind them during their employment whenever I have the chance.

I also take the time to explain that our customers pay their salaries. Therefore, we rely on them to treat the customer with the same respect and professionalism they deserve and should expect from us. Drivers are more likely to care about themselves, their jobs, and operating safely if we show them we appreciate their efforts toward safety and service.

The best way to show them is not just through pay targeted toward safety and service, but also through communication. One-on-one, in-person conversation goes a long way in showing drivers how much they mean to your business. It shows them we listen, we care, and they are not just another body in a truck.

Taking this a step further, we should know our drivers by name. I don’t know how many times I have had a driver say, “I can’t believe you remembered me.” Other ways to help drivers care about their job and safety is to have an open door policy, ask them for suggestions, keep them informed of what is going on, recognize their accomplishments (big or small), establish good competitions (such as best fuel mileage or a weight loss program), and provide attainable incentive programs. Some of these things cost very little money but make a huge difference.

Second, we need to make sure that every department realizes that safety is our number one priority. We expect safety to be part of their dialogue when speaking to our drivers. We want our drivers to go home safely to their families. Explain that injuries can be serious, accidents can be fatal, and catastrophic events are hard to recover from physically, emotionally, and financially.

We all have a responsibility to promote safety in the workplace. Arranging safety training and education for our non-driving employees is just as important as initial, recurring and remedial training for our drivers.

We believe hands-on training is much more effective than “video only” training. And having a feedback system that measures comprehension is important. Whether it is with short tests or even open discussion where participation is mandatory, we need to be sure drivers and employees understood the training content.

Having solid policies and procedures in place is key. They must be written, and employees should sign a receipt or acknowledgement of receiving them. We must follow them and be consistent. That shows drivers fairness in application and helps to dispel the concern that the company plays favorites. We should review these manuals, policies, documentation on a scheduled basis. If updates are made, acknowledgements should be signed again, with updates listed and dated. Communicate any new policies well to avoid misunderstandings later.

As safety managers, the first thing we must examine before we start delving into how we can make really effective safety programs that produce positive results is … ourselves. Without applying the appropriate needed time toward our safety programs, we are just spinning our wheels and gaining zero ground. We can travel many miles in a day with our “busy-ness” and still be going backwards. We need to think smarter, not harder. We are full of knowledge through our experiences, things we’ve learned at seminars, through an audit, reading regulations, and so on. The only way to increase our value is by teaching others what we know. We make our employees more valuable while increasing our own value to the organization.

Think about ways you can mainstream some job duties — cross train. We say we don’t have time to train, but in reality we don’t have time to make a difference if we don’t train. Measuring our success is done by analyzing data. If we don’t have time to analyze data, we have no clue where we are at or if we are even making a difference.

We often want to “talk” our way into getting upper management buy in. Talk is cheap. Safety programs aren’t … up front. We must do our homework and be able to show the likelihood of return on investment on new programs or equipment. Be able to explain the expected impact of the program and what results you hope to achieve. When compiling data, make sure it is accurate. Compare data with previous performance. Show both improvements and deficiencies. We need to know where our problems lie, so we can fix them.

Once issues are found, determine a solution, whether it be a safety campaign, technology, training, short term incentive plan, etc. Communicate the solution effectively via newsletters, memos, or meetings. Report the outcome. Did our solution work? If so, great. If not, go to plan B and try again. 

Mitzi Hartman started working in the trucking industry in 1988 as a dispatcher. For the last 20 years she has been at McLeod Express in Decatur, Ill., where she has been director of safety since 2007.

This is a recap of a presentation she gave at this year’s Fleet Safety Conference put on by HDT and sister Bobit Business Media publications. Hartman is a Certified Director of Safety, a Smith System Driver Trainer, has spoken publicly for the Illinois Trucking Association, and is on the ITA’s Safety & Maintenance Council.