July 10, 2023
Stay vigilant about safety compliance with mock audits
Preparing for an audit now can help avoid detrimental consequences of less-than-satisfactory safety ratings later
Mock audits are an essential tool for motor carriers to understand how their companies would perform during a real Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration safety compliance review.
They usually involve hiring a professional third-party consultant with expertise in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) who can help a company comprehensively vet its safety regulation compliance, helping identify areas that would lead its safety fitness to be deemed less than satisfactory by an auditor.
“Most safety managers have never conducted an FMCSA audit,” said Mark Barlar, Reliance Partners’ director of Department of Transportation regulatory compliance. Reliance Partners is a truck insurance brokerage that also provides safety consulting. “Unless you’re the one enforcing it, there’s a lot of little nuances on how the safety rating comes about, and that can be confusing.”
Receiving a conditional or unsatisfactory safety rating means a carrier does not have adequate safety management controls in place. A conditional safety rating requires businesses to take steps to improve, and an unsatisfactory rating prohibits a business from operating commercial motor vehicles. A carrier’s safety rating is publicly available and has the potential to affect its standing with shippers and customers.
While the FMCSRs are extensive, and all are important, Barlar emphasized the importance of the acute and critical regulations found in Appendix B to Part 385 to avoid a poor safety rating.
“There are a lot of regulations that need to be complied with that won’t affect your safety rating, but you can definitely be warned and fined for those things during an audit,” Barlar said.
The acute and critical regulations in Appendix B to Part 385 fall into the categories of general, driver, operational, vehicle, hazardous materials and accidents. Barlar also recommends sectioning a mock compliance review in this order.
Safety ratings are also influenced by accident frequency and out-of-service rates. If your accident factor is more than 1.5 crashes per million miles (1.7 crashes per million miles for urban carriers) or your out-of-service rate is greater than 34% for qualifying inspections, you will receive an unsatisfactory safety rating.
Why you might be targeted for an audit
Getting selected for a compliance review is something that can put any safety professional on edge if he or she is unprepared. However, knowing why your business might be targeted and regularly conducting mock audits can help set a company up for success when a compliance review does happen.
Barlar said there are usually a few main reasons why a company might be chosen for an FMCSA audit beyond its established safety rating, like how a business stands in the seven Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). These categories are unsafe driving, crash indicator, hours of service compliance, vehicle maintenance, controlled substances and alcohol, hazardous materials compliance and driver fitness. Data is compiled from roadside inspections, crash reports and investigation results.
“If you’re in the ‘alert’ status for one, you have a heightened risk of being audited,” Barlar explained. “If you have an alert in all seven, you’re probably going to get audited. The more alerts for your CSA profile, the more of a chance that an audit will take place.”
You may also be selected for an audit if someone filed a complaint against your business to the FMCSA.
“All complaints, if they were properly filed, have to be investigated. It may not result in an audit but it could. It depends on the complaint,” Barlar said.
Best mock audit practices
During a real audit, it’s best practice to keep files separated to help ensure that you aren’t providing excess information, Barlar advised. For example, keep vehicle maintenance files and crash files separate, as well as keep driver qualification files independent from drug and alcohol files.
Barlar also recommends having an example file of everything you need to furnish for each driver and vehicle. This will help a company train safety personnel and help gather the needed material.
Finally, Barlar advises mock audits be conducted with some frequency.
“I would do it every few years at least. If you get one done every year, or when you have new safety personnel in place, it will definitely teach the people that are working in your safety department how to successfully navigate an FMCSA audit,” Barlar said.
Reliance Partners’ experts in FMCSA regulations can help motor carriers get audit ready by conducting mock audits, both on and off site. To get started, contact your agent.