July 22, 2021

Safety check: It’s better to be proactive than reactive


Developing a safety culture isn’t easy, but establishing one sure does make your job a lot easier down the road

Developing a safety culture isn’t easy, but establishing one sure does make your job a lot easier down the road.

Reliance Partners Director of Safety Robert Kaferle continues the conversation from his previous article, Safety check: No carrier thinks it’s ‘unsafe’, further explaining the importance of proactive safety amid a high-risk environment.

Kaferle and fellow Director of Safety Brian Runnels are part of Reliance Partners’ risk services team, which works closely with motor carriers to identify potential gaps in regulation compliance and offers strategic guidance for corrective action. Both Kaferle and Runnels have a combined 70 years of trucking experience, with both holding CDLs and CDS certifications. Having been behind the wheel as well as safety department heads, the two are familiar with struggles and safety needs of motor carriers large and small.

“Being proactive takes more work than being reactive, but doing so gives you way more benefits than what reactive measures deliver,” Kaferle said. “At Reliance Partners, we operate on a proactive-versus-reactive consulting model. Most people wait until they have a problem before seeking help, but by then it’s often too late to mitigate the issues at hand.”

Undervaluing safety can easily lead to a dangerous game of catch-up, by which doing the bare minimum to avoid or correct violation leaves carriers unable to foresee potential risks. But safety shouldn’t be viewed as an arduous checklist to follow.

“I’ve seen carriers have a couple of months with good results only to have things drop like a rock,” Kaferle said. “Most of the time it’s because they don’t have a solid safety program in place. What they’re doing is reacting to an increase in violations instead of continually training and addressing those issues before they arise.”

Unlike mock audits, which are reactionary in nature and are intended to find violations only, safety consulting aims to gauge a company’s management style and overall safety culture, ultimately addressing issues before coming to fruition.

Kaferle recommends having somebody review your operations who has no dog in the fight, explaining that a third-party consultant with your insurance carrier or retail agent can detail what you’re doing right and wrong. “You want somebody to not only tell you what your deficiencies are but give you solid ideas on how to fix them,” he said.

“You should bring somebody in every year just to see if there’s anything that you should be doing differently,” Kaferle said, adding that consultants are also useful in recommending new technologies in the marketplace that could greatly benefit the carrier’s operations.

Kaferle noted that motor carriers often make safety determinations based on their CSA scores, but he warns that these numbers don’t always depict a carrier’s safety accurately. For instance, low scores may not mean a carrier is currently safe. Conversely, a motor carrier may be straight as an arrow despite possessing high scores from violations occurring many months ago.

Regardless, safety shouldn’t be viewed in terms of metrics but rather a work style. Kaferle suggests an effective and easy way to establish a culture of safety is to disseminate learning resources to drivers and managers within your organization, sharing videos, white papers and safety bulletins from the FMCSA, insurance carriers or other industry experts. Safety meetings and conferences should also be scheduled routinely.

But safety cultures cannot flourish if ramifications aren’t also clearly established. Safety management and discipline must be administered from a top-down approach, Kaferle said, adding that progessive disciplinary actions should correlate with the severity of the violation. Routinely acting in accordance with policy guidelines helps dispel ambiguity from decision-making.

Remember to communicate why proactive safety is important with your drivers. The bottom line is that unsafe driving comes with a heavy price — damages incurred to vehicles and persons involved can be astronomical, resulting in major insurance increases.

“Insurance is a transference of risk from the carrier to the insurance company, and the amount of risk that they’re going to take on determines the premium,” Kaferle said. “The riskier the carrier, the bigger the premium; so the less risky you can make yourself as a carrier, the more impact that you’re going to have on reducing your premium.”