About 70% of freight in the U.S. is moved by truck. For trucking companies, building a safety culture is crucial to keeping everyone safe on the road. But when drivers are on the road for weeks at a time, it can be hard to maintain a cohesive safety program. We talk with Potterfield Trucking about the industry’s unique safety challenges and how to address them.
Every year, nearly 3.5 million truck drivers travel cross-country to deliver goods nationwide. Trucks transport about 71 percent of all freight in the U.S. Maintaining a culture of safety can be difficult when employees are on the road for days or weeks at a time. This means that frequently safety preparation doesn’t come until after an incident has already occurred. Whether it’s getting drivers to and from work safely or supervising an entire fleet, communicating the importance of safe practices to employees is essential to prevent accidents in the workplace, rather than just learning from them.
Too often, personal or workplace tragedies become the spark that ignites a passion for safety. Missouri Employers Mutual (MEM) policyholder Randy Potterfield of Potterfield Trucking is intimately familiar with how accidents impact both the employee and the workplace. He knows the pain and grief that come from them. One of Randy’s drivers collided with a car that pulled out in front of him on a usually quiet rural road, killing the two sisters who were inside.
Although Randy nor the driver of the truck were at fault for the accident, it continues to affect them both to this day. In business for over 50 years, Randy has fostered a safety culture at Potterfield Trucking and developed a passion for keeping his employees safe and happy. He uses strategies that focus on trucking safety and create a great foundation for a business in need of improvement.
Train Your Employees on Proper Safety Techniques
Drivers face constant distractions. Hours on the road can often cause even the most seasoned employee to shift into subconscious driving. This takes their mind off the road and their surroundings. A critical component of any safe workplace are properly trained employees, who are aware of safety risks and how to minimize them.
However, a shortage of drivers in the trucking industry means that for many employers, including Randy, more and more of their drivers will have less experience. New hires present the most risk, as they don’t have years of experience and knowledge like their counterparts. About 75 percent of Randy’s employees have been with the company for years, while the other 25 percent are more recent hires. At Potterfield Trucking, new employees go through a ride-along training period with a more experienced driver in addition to their other safety training.
Employees that are familiar with trucking safety techniques and practices make workplaces safer from the inside out and are better drivers on the road. Safety policies, such as those that address the danger of using cell phones while driving and the use of seatbelts, inform employees of your expectations and their responsibilities. Hold them accountable by having them sign safety policies, and check in at regular intervals to measure their understanding.
Ensure that your drivers:
- Use three-point contact when getting on or off of any equipment, trailers, or trucks.
- Know how to report safety hazards or concerns.
- Wear appropriate footwear when on the job.
- Know how to avoid common driving distractions.
- Wear seatbelts when driving.
“It’s expensive when equipment gets torn up, but when you hurt somebody…sometimes that’s forever,” Randy says as he recalls his own experience of not wearing a seatbelt. A piece of slow-moving farm equipment hit a washed-out spot, but without a seatbelt, the impact launched him and a friend into the windshield. “I always tell my guys I can replace equipment, but I don’t want you guys hurt.”
Reinforce safety policies through regular meetings
Regular safety meetings and enforced policies work hand in hand to keep your employees and workplace safe. Potterfield Trucking holds safety meetings are held on the second Saturday after the end of each quarter. All employees are required to attend. Randy often covers seasonal topics, such as looking out for school buses and winter weather in the fall or watching for farm vehicles on rural interstate roads in the spring.
These safety meetings also create a dialogue where employees can voice their concerns. “We think by meeting every quarter, we open up a dialogue for them to talk about any issues that they have and issues we have,” Randy says. “Safety is basically going over the same thing over and over and trying to get it to where it’s a habit.” Drivers have an incentive to pay attention: they are rewarded with a safety bonus if they don’t have any accidents or safety violations.
Invest in equipment to help reduce risk in the workplace
Companies can reduce safety risk with the right equipment. This can mean replacing outdated pieces or adding new safety features to existing trucks or machines. Randy acknowledges that it can be difficult to stay profitable in the trucking industry when faced with driver shortages and the pressure to cut costs. The more profitable you are, the more resources you can commit to workplace safety. But when times are financially difficult, money funneled towards safety measures is often the first to be cut, especially in smaller businesses.
MEM’s Safety Grant Program, a dollar-for-dollar matching initiative, exists to help businesses pay for essential equipment to make their workplaces safer. Potterfield Trucking received a Safety Grant that enabled them to replace manual tarps on their dump trailers with electric tarps. Not only was the level of danger and physical strain on their employees significantly reduced, but they also saw an additional return on safety by being able to take on the occasional extra load because of the time they saved.
As safety leaders, employers have a responsibility to communicate the importance of safe practices to their employees. Our websites feature dozens of resources that can assist you in making your commitment to safety today, including sample safety policies, Tool Box Talks that can kickstart your safety meetings, and a safety calendar packed with posters and guides.
For Randy, safety isn’t just about having the occasional conversation. “You have to talk about it, you have to communicate about it. Keep it on everybody’s mind all the time,” he says. “It’s a constant issue—all of it. Being on the phone, wearing a seatbelt, hooking up your trailers properly, getting in and out of the trucks. We’ve been talking about the same thing for twenty years, and it’s not going to change. Mostly it’s just paying attention to what you’re doing, keeping your mind on your job, and communicating and talking about it all the time.”