Teams that don’t follow a well-executed game plan aren’t expected to succeed. The same goes for trucking companies without safety policies in place. Don’t be surprised when trouble comes your way. 

Nothing great is built without a blueprint, which is why it’s important for motor carriers to put pen to paper as to what they expect from their driver workforce.

Reliance Partners Director of Safety Robert Kaferle shared his thoughts on documenting policies and procedures. Over the years, he’s surprised by how many companies lack even basic operational and safety guidelines.  

“The smaller the carrier, typically the less documented policies and procedures they have,” Kaferle said. “It’s because they’re focused on trucking, they’re focused on getting loads from one place to the next.”

It can be hard for startups to blindly follow profit as anxiety builds to make names for themselves. But Kaferle said that larger carriers are guilty of running things without rules in place too.

“When speaking with them, almost 100% say, ‘Well, everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing. For instance, everyone knows what our cellphone policy and seat belt policy is,’ despite it not being documented,” Kaferle said.

One of the first things Kaferle asks of his clients is to establish policies that cover the easy things, suggesting that cellphones, seat belts, speeding and hours of service are good areas to start with. Adherence to 49 CFR Parts 392 and 397 as well as FMCSA’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICS) is strongly recommended.

Once the groundwork has been laid, Kaferle’s next step is to implement policies that can be expandable, meaning management can update its language or penalties if necessary. 

A safety program’s ultimate goal should be to increase safety while inversely reducing the severity and frequency of accidents through policy enforcement. In short, the goal is to correct bad behavior. But keep in mind that disciplinary actions should be progressive. 

It wouldn’t be fair to treat a seat belt violation the same as a drug or alcohol offense, but rather to use a three-strike method for low-level offenses. For instance, a first strike warrants a written warning, a second one brings a suspension and a third in six months results in termination, Kaferle explained. However, the three-strike method isn’t appropriate for every violation. Some offenses should be met with immediate termination.  

“There are some violations that you can absolutely retrain, such as seat belt usage and speeding,” Kaferle said. “Things that you shouldn’t tolerate and offer retraining in include drug and alcohol violations.”

As carriers grow larger, Kaferle recommends management discuss establishing an accident review board, giving drivers an opportunity to appeal a violation and explain their side of the story. Although it can be a meticulous process, he said that adding this aspect of a safety program can go a long way in improving retention because drivers feel they have a voice.

Laying out precisely what’s expected of your drivers and what they can expect if found in violation of such rules ensures everyone’s on the same page from the get-go, leaving no room for ambiguity. Kaferle said these talks should be had with new drivers during orientation, describing how common it is for new drivers to express frustration when they’ve unknowingly broken a rule.

Even more frustrating is when carriers assume that having no policy is a good policy, which Kaferle said is a common belief. That includes assuming that not having a rule banning cellphone use will absolve themselves of liability if a distraction-related accident were to occur because the driver didn’t technically break any “rules.” 

Kaferle was quick to point out that carriers would absolutely face repercussions. Drivers should be instructed — and should know — to not use phones while driving, as protecting the motoring public should always be the top priority. 

A policy itself can’t prevent distracted driving from occurring, as drivers are ultimately responsible for the decisions they make, but having rules in place can mitigate the behavior and help to alleviate the carrier of liability.

“One of the things that Reliance Partners does for our clients is evaluate their policies and procedures to see how they’re being utilized,” Kaferle said. “If an inspector sees that you’ve got policies and procedures in place, it goes a long way in alleviating their fears of you being a non-quality carrier.

“However, if you’re receiving violations despite having policies and procedures in place and are found to not be following them, that’s a huge red flag. So not only do you have to have them in place, but you have to follow them.”

Kaferle welcomes any and all questions from carriers unsure of their compliance, ensuring that he doesn’t want to penalize but help his clients become safer. Reliance Partners’ team of risk management experts offer best-in-class customer service to members across the transportation and logistics landscape, providing in-depth advice tailored to each client.

It’s in the best interest of everyone on the road for companies to establish and follow proper safety procedures. New motor carriers, even those with experience but unfamiliar with the rules of the road, should partner with industry experts who can guide toward compliance. 

Click for more FreightWaves content by Jack Glenn.

More from Reliance Partners:

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Reliance Partners celebrates 6th-straight year on Inc. 5000 list

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