No matter how good your screening, you still have to monitor driver performance

Risk assessment report is a fancy way of describing an evaluation of a fleet's safety program. In fact, it provides an evaluation of the carrier's current safety management systems, identifies areas of concern, and proposes a plan for improvement. More importantly, it forms the basis of the relationship between a trucking company and its insurance carrier.

Included in a risk assessment report are details about the following safety management systems: driver selection, qualification, and training; incident management; fatigue management; vehicle inspection, repair, and maintenance; employee safety; and handling hazardous materials.

Recently, I interviewed the safety director of a major truckload carrier to gather data for a Risk Assessment Report. When I asked him to tell me about the fleet's driver selection process, he handed me an impressive packet that included an application form, minimum eligibility criteria, a pay summary sheet, and a list of benefits.

Eligibility criteria included a minimum age requirement of 25 years, three years of over-the-road experience, and no more than two moving violations and/or preventable accidents within the last 36 months. Since these standards are tougher than most, I complimented him on raising the safety bar in that area.

Next we covered the hiring process. The safety director explained he screened applications, conducted one-on-one interviews, and did extensive background checks.

When I asked about training for new hires, he described a one-week orientation program that covers company procedures, accident reporting, procedures for hauling hazardous materials, and how to use satellite communications equipment. New drivers are then assigned to a driver-trainer for a one- to two-week period.

But when I asked the safety director what came next, he seemed a little frustrated and replied, "We turn them over to dispatch and they're assigned their own truck."

"But how do you monitor driver performance once the new hire is onboard?" The safety director explained that the fleet requires annual reviews of driver records and is the "first call" when a driver's involved in an accident.

I wanted to make sure that I'd heard it right. "Let me get this straight. Once you turn a driver over to dispatch, the next time you hear from them is when they're involved in an accident or they've done something wrong?" His response was a sheepish, "Yeah."

Unfortunately, I've had similar conversations with safety directors at other fleets. They're all giving new hires a negative message: Call me when you have a wreck.

What's missing from so many safety programs is a system for monitoring driver performance. It's important to track violations (traffic, driver logs, etc.); accidents (severity, frequency, and whether or not they were preventable); roadside inspection performance; and public input (information called in by customers and other motorists). The system should also alert the safety director to patterns that suggest a problem driver.

Performance monitoring systems should be an integral part of every carrier's safety program. A major benefit is the ability to help fleets direct safety training to those who need it most. For example, one carrier's system pinpointed the fact that over 65% of its accidents involved drivers in their first year on the job, even though this group represented only 45% of the fleet's driver work force.

Next month, we'll look at how to identify weak spots in your safety program and put solutions in place.

Jim York is a senior risk engineering consultant at Zurich Insurance Systems, based in Fredricksburg, Va.