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Reducing Risk: How Trucking Companies Can Best Prevent Workplace Injuries

How 'risky' a trucking company is in the eyes of its insurance provider extends beyond claims involving collisions with other vehicles or property. While those incidents capture most of the headlines when it comes to fleet safety, they often don't paint the whole picture of how safe a fleet is. In fact, many driver workplace injuries happen when drivers are loading/unloading cargo or securing freight, around the truck yard, or while waiting at a customer location.

When an insurance provider evaluates how safe a fleet is, they want to know what they're doing to address all areas of driver safety, not just what is being done to help protect drivers on the road.

We recently spoke with Mike Derry and John Farquhar of Summit Risk Solutions to get their advice on what fleets can do to better prevent workplace injuries from happening. Currently provide independent risk evaluations for transportation companies through Summit Risk Solutions, both have immense industry experience as drivers, safety managers, fleet owners, and risk advisors for a major insurer. In this blog, we'll cover the key points from our conversation, which include:

Scope of workplace injuries in the trucking industry

Believe it or not, more than 30% of workplace injuries in the trucking industry are from drivers slipping or falling on the job. Half of these types of injuries are considered serious and can lead to drivers missing time on the road.

Considering the average age of a truck driver is above 50, mishaps can mean an extended time on the disabled list -- a thoughtless jump off the bed of a trailer or from the steps of a cab could have serious consequences.

But simply telling drivers to use three points of contact when climbing on equipment or to “just be safe” on the job isn't enough to prevent workplace injuries. A trucking company needs to fully embrace a culture that prioritizes safety. And that starts at the C-Suite. Drivers can sense whether upper management truly cares about safety or not.

When Derry and Farquhar visit trucking companies for risk evaluations, they can tell right away if a company has safe practices in place by how well they do the little things.

“We like to get to a customer location before our meeting starts to see if they're doing any last-minute preparations,” said Farquhar. “If they're moving trucks around to get them nice and lined up or organizing equipment that's laying around, that's not a good sign. It's the little things that count. If we trip walking into the building because there is a hazard unaccounted for, our expectations for what we'll uncover in the risk evaluation aren't promising.”

Best practices for reducing risk in the workplace

'Low-risk' fleets go far beyond taking care of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to safety. It's relatively easy to identify and remove physical hazards at company facilities or in the yard, but establishing a safety-first culture requires much more than that. From the time a driver is hired to when they leave the company, safety practices and programs must be in place to support the culture. To support safety initiatives, here are a few ideas Derry and Farquhar suggest:

These are just a few ideas of things you can do now to support safe practices around company facilities and while drivers are on the road.

Working with customers to create safe working conditions

At company facilities, there's no excuse for allowing unsafe working conditions for drivers. But even if your company has great safety programs in place to reduce workplace injuries and on-road safety incidents, issues can arise at customer locations. It's important to encourage drivers to report safety hazards when they notice them. Sometimes a customer will have policies in place to protect its employees, but not necessarily for drivers that pick up from their location. For example, a customer may require drivers to stay in their trucks while being loaded. This policy may be intended to protect a driver, but the driver has no idea if the cargo is being secured properly or if anything needs to be done to secure the load afterward.

“When I was a driver, I was once asked to get on top of the equipment I was going to haul to tarp it,” said Farquhar. “I refused, since it was an obvious safety hazard, and I asked the customer to help with the forklifts that they had. They said they couldn't because of a policy in place to protect their employees. After bringing up the issue with the company, we sorted it out and they rewrote the policy so that they could assist us with tarping loads.”

A good working relationship with customers can help alleviate many of the potential safety issues drivers could experience. If a driver identifies a possible safety issue with a customer, you could ask if they'd be open to a risk evaluation. Most companies would like to know if there's an issue with their safety practices.

Factors to consider when hiring new truck drivers

The drivers you hire can make or break how safely your fleet operates. If they're not vetted properly before hiring or trained with the skills they need to succeed once they've signed on, that can create compounding issues for your overall safety program.

When you go through the hiring process, Derry and Farquhar recommend you:

Onboarding drivers

Once drivers are hired, it's time for onboarding. It's a critical first step in getting new drivers familiar with company culture, its stance on safety, and what's expected of them in their new positions. According to Derry, some fleets he's met with for risk evaluations have boasted about how short their onboarding process is.

“Some of the fleets we've met with have been proud that driver onboarding only takes a few hours, which is way too short,” said Derry. “Orientation should be a few days or more, depending on the application. You can't assume drivers are comfortable with the equipment they will be operating or the types of cargo they will be hauling.

“Just because a driver has experience hauling dry van trailers, it doesn't mean they know how to properly secure the type of freight they will be responsible for hauling.”

Through the Best Fleets to Drive For program, we've seen some fleets provide drivers with training that is specific to each new customer they're assigned to. This helps them become more familiar with customer practices, how to secure types of freight they'll be expected to haul, etc.

The more proactive you are in vetting new hires that will fit into your organization, as well as providing them with the training they need to succeed in their new jobs, the more likely they'll turn out to be a safe driver.

Tips to reinforce safe practices

It's easy to get complacent with safety initiatives, especially if many of the drivers in your fleet have years of experience and you expect them to perform their jobs safely. But, that can become a slippery slope. Like most people, drivers have a lot on their plate balancing tasks related to work and in their personal lives. And because of that, it can be easy for them to forget or rush through tasks without following proper safety protocols. It's important to maintain communications with drivers to keep safe practices top of mind. Derry suggests using communication strategies such as email and notice boards (as noted earlier) to remind drivers of best practices and of seasonal driving conditions. When kids are out of school during breaks, construction projects start up in your area, or severe weather conditions are in the forecast, reminding drivers of potential hazards can help them be more aware out on the road.

Continual training for both experienced and inexperienced drivers is also a great way to ensure drivers receive the information they need to perform various tasks safely. CarriersEdge includes several courses that are designed specifically to help prevent workplace injuries from happening. These courses include:

For a detailed description of these injury prevention courses, plus other training courses we offer, visit the CarriersEdge course catalog.

Creating a safe work environment for drivers is essential to reducing your overall risk level. To learn more about what you can do to reduce workplace injuries from happening at your company, check out our full webinar discussion with Derry and Farquhar.