Recently, I realized that May 2008 marks my 100th month as the contributing editor for this column. Over these past eight-plus years, we have seen many changes and advancements in truck safety.

For instance, our industry has made significant improvements in identifying and managing at-risk driver behavior. These improvements have yielded a significant reduction in highway crashes and such safety performance metrics as driver out-of-service rates.

Each of you contributed to these achievements. You became more vigilant in managing hours of service and became less tolerant of driver hours-of-service and logbook violations. Despite these improvements, we have much work yet to accomplish. For example, let's look at slips, trips and falls.

Employee injuries from slips, trips and falls represent a significant portion of lost workdays for private and for-hire trucking companies. Our analysis indicates these accident types rank second, only behind strain injuries, in terms of their financial impact.

Slips and falls from a different level that occur when entering or exiting a vehicle are the most frequent and severe employee injury event among these types. Various data sources reveal that the cost of one of these events frequently surpasses the cost of a rear-end collision or lane change/merge crash. Also, industry data reveals that over half of these events remain active for a period of 90 to 360 days. While many of these accidents occur with new employees, our findings indicate that most happen to employees who have been with their employer for three years or more.

These findings present us with a bad news/good news dilemma. The bad news is that a March 2000 analysis would have produced similar findings, meaning we have not made significant progress over the past several years. The good news is that improvements in preventing these injuries will not require some new breakthrough in vehicle technology or behavioral science.

Quite simply, we must realize that the approach we used to reduce driver out-of-service violations can produce similar reductions in the frequency and severity of employee injuries arising from different-level falls.

First, we must be vigilant in communicating and reinforcing the basics of slip/fall safety to our drivers and shop workers, including:

  • Reinforcing proper driver entry/exit techniques through the placement of three-point contact decals in the truck cab and at common trailer entry/exit points.

  • Training drivers on ladder-climbing techniques.

  • Emphasizing the use of proper footwear.

Second, we must be less tolerant of risky climbing behavior. This begins with meaningful task observations and is reinforced with measures such as callouts and corrective actions for unsafe behavior and praise for safe behavior.

Most important, we must realize that these types of falls occur during in-the-moment events like climbing ladders or entering/exiting the truck cab. Unlike sprains and strains, which can occur even when employing proper techniques, virtually all slips and falls could be prevented if we are vigilant during those momentary climbing events.

I urge you to commit to real reductions in employee injuries from slips and falls. With that commitment, we can celebrate your achievements as I mark the next anniversary of this column.

Jim York is the ass't. vice president of technical services for Zurich Services Corp. Risk Engineering in Schaumburg, IL.