Keeping Your Construction Fleet Safe

As you prepare your business for winter’s unique hazards, it’s a perfect time to reinforce your commitment to safety by reviewing your company safety program. Along with ensuring you still comply with state and federal regulations, this process provides an excellent opportunity to re-engage with your employees on the topic of safety.

Within the construction industry, many employers provide employees with access to company vehicles. While this can improve your company’s flexibility and customer access, it’s not without risk.

Every employee who gets behind the wheel of one of your company’s vehicles can create additional auto liability exposures for you. That’s why you’ll benefit from creating actionable safety goals for your drivers, and documenting the results throughout the year.

Reduce future accidents by looking to the past

No matter your industry, no matter your fleet size, one thing remains the same: reducing accidents should be your drivers’ top safety goal. In addition to the seriousness of injuries and the very real potential for loss of life, remember that many accident expenses may not be covered by insurance – which means they’ll need to be absorbed by your business.

That’s why we encourage you to update your driver safety program with an emphasis on reducing accident frequency. We recognize that 100 percent accident prevention is unrealistic, as your drivers share the road with millions of other drivers and encounter many variables that are completely outside their control. That said, it’s a worthwhile goal and a strong starting point.

Begin by analyzing accident data from previous years. Use that information to focus your efforts on preventing future occurrences.

  • Conduct a thorough year-end accident review. Determine which accidents were preventable, and identify the actions the drivers could have taken. Be critical and honest
  • Use your findings to create a realistic benchmark based on prior performance.
  • Note any trends that point to specific accident causes, such as speeding, distracted driving due to cell phone use, or drivers falling asleep behind the wheel. These trends will help you determine the areas to focus on during driver training.
  •  Have your management team document and communicate your planned safety improvements to all employees, not just drivers. In a company with a true culture of safety, everyone plays a role.

Define your safety objectives

You set objectives for your employees, defining your expectations and outlining strategies for selling your products and providing service to customers. Take the same approach to safe driving.

At your next employee safety meeting, ask your employees about their driving objectives. Encourage their input and incorporate that input as you establish your company’s safe driving objectives.

Begin with general safety guidelines, such as:

  • Be aware of your surroundings
  • Obey traffic laws
  • Treat your vehicle with respect
  • Exercise courtesy to pedestrians and other drivers
  • Do not use alcohol and drugs
  • Allow only authorized passengers in your vehicle
  • Wear your seat belt whenever you’re behind the wheel
  • Lock up the vehicle and trailer at all times
  • Avoid using mobile devices while driving

Ask each employee to commit to these objectives. Have them sign a copy of your company policy statement on safe driving, and keep the signed copies in their individual personnel files. Additionally, post these objectives in each company vehicle.

Understand negligent entrustment liability

Negligent entrustment liability allows an injured party to recover damages when they’re injured because a person – or business – put a dangerous device, such as a vehicle, in the possession of someone who wasn’t equipped to handle it properly or safely.

How does this affect your business? Well, let’s say one of your drivers is found to be at fault in an accident that injures another person. To determine negligent entrustment, the injured person must generally prove the following elements:

  • The owner of the vehicle entrusted the vehicle to the driver
  • The driver was incompetent, reckless or unlicensed
  • The owner knew (or should have known) that the driver was incompetent, reckless or unlicensed
  • The driver was negligent in his or her operation of the vehicle
  • The driver’s negligence caused damages

So, what can you do to reduce your company’s exposure to negligent entrustment?

  • Establish and consistently enforce a formal fleet safety policy. The policy should include provisions that specifically address distracted driving, speeding, drowsy or impaired driving, seat belt usage, and other topics we’ve outlined in the “Define your safety objectives” section above.
  • Communicate your safety policy to your drivers and provide a way for drivers to officially acknowledge they understand and agree to adhere to the safety policy.
  • At least once a year, run motor vehicle record (MVR) checks on all drivers who operate a company-owned or personal vehicle for company business. Review the MVR results in detail and establish a risk-scoring system based on the results.
  • Provide regular driver safety training courses, particularly for drivers whose risk scores are out of line with your established parameters.

Be prepared to reinforce your safety policy frequently, and apply it across your entire fleet to ensure its effectiveness. While there’s no way to guarantee that you’ll never incur a negligent entrustment accident, establishing and enforcing a solid safety and risk management policy will go a long way toward limiting your liability if one of your drivers is involved in an accident.

Evaluate your drivers

Even though you work hard to select and train the right new drivers, you should still regularly evaluate each of your current drivers. When it comes to safety, complacency can be a slippery slope.

Note the following red flags as you review your drivers’ files:

  • Public complaints
  • Excessive maintenance expenses or vehicle abuse
  • A history of accidents and violations listed on a current MVR
  • Vehicle accidents resulting in an insurance claim

Define what your company considers an acceptable driving record, and – just as importantly – the criteria that defines an unacceptable driving record. For example, a standard acceptable driving record over a three-year period could include:

  • A maximum of one at-fault accident, or two minor violations
  • No major violations

Major violations include:

  • Evading arrest
  • Illegal possession
  • Reckless disregard
  • Operating without care
  • Driving to endanger life
  • Operating while intoxicated (OWI)
  • Refusing an alcohol test
  • Driving while impaired
  • Failure to stop for an accident
  • Participating in a racing contest
  • Speeding 25 mph or more over the posted limit
  • Operating after license has been denied
  • Misrepresentation to avoid arrest
  • Misrepresentation to obtain driver’s license
  • Traffic violation resulting in death
  • Vehicle use in connection with a felony
  • License revocation for any reason
  • Operating with a suspended or revoked license

If an employee’s driving record becomes unacceptable, consider revoking their driving privileges or access to company vehicles. Have the employee sign a statement indicating they understand the reason for this probation, along with the consequences they may face if they violate the conditions of their probation.

Don’t focus solely on the negatives, however. We’ve found that rewarding good drivers with simple incentive programs helps encourage safe driving. For example, try giving special recognition to any driver who remains accident- or violation-free each year.

Enhance your driver orientation and training programs

While driver training is generally a requirement for young drivers and those new to your organization, we recommend that all drivers – no matter their experience level – participate in annual classroom driver training. After all, regulations change and technology is constantly evolving. Plus, there’s value in ensuring all drivers throughout your company are on the same page regarding your expectations.

New driver orientation is the first opportunity to communicate your company’s expectations, including:

  • Company policies and rules
  • Driver safety objectives
  • Acceptable driving records criteria
  • Vehicle maintenance and inspection responsibilities
  • Municipal, state and federal regulations
  • Vehicle security
  • Personal use policies (using personal vehicles for work purposes)

Your general driver training should include sessions dedicated to:

  • Operating vehicles of various models and sizes
  • Pulling utility trailers or flatbeds with heavy loads
  • Securing loads safely
  • Driving in changing weather climates
  • Recognizing and dealing with vehicle blinds spots
  • Identifying alternate routes due to weather, road construction, traffic and other factors

We’ve worked with businesses throughout the construction industry for decades, and we’ve seen the positive impact a company-wide commitment to safety can make. That commitment begins at the top.

Work with your management team to organize periodic updates, frequent driver meetings, refresher training opportunities, and seasonal training sessions. These action items demonstrate your dedication to your fleet safety policy – and to helping your drivers keep themselves and others safe on the road.

By Randy Dombrowski – Safety Services Representative, Sentry Insurance

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