I was chatting with a friend and colleague the other day about safety and employees who must drive as part of their duties. This major retailer operates its own fleet of tractor-trailer delivery vehicles and operates Canada-wide. We have been providing driver safety products and services to its delivery fleet operation for a decade now.
We also discussed the other 'non-professional' drivers in their company - employees who drive many kilometres every year to do their job.
When I asked what they were doing to keep these employees safe, the answer shocked me: "We never really thought about that," he said.
This organization is one of the best in terms of customer service, employee morale and relations, and was recognized as one of Canada's Safest Employers. And yet, for employees who driver personal and company vehicles from time to time in the course of their duties, nothing is being done to ensure their safety on the road - not even checking whether employees are licensed or doing annual checks of their driving records.
It was just never considered.
This company is not alone. Too many employees fail to recognize that if they send their employees out on the road, they are driving as part of the job. While driving may not be the principle part of their job, they are driving as part of their profession and may be woefully unprepared to safely execute this duty in the environment and vehicles required.
But, you may ask, if these workers have current licenses they must be competent. Not necessarily.
In order to become licensed, one must pass certain tests, typically a knowledge test followed by at least one driving test (in some jurisdiction, two road test are required). The road test may have been conducted when the worker was a teenager and upon passing, their driving skills will never be looked at again until they participate in a corporate driver safety program, get flagged in the system for excessive violations or hit their senior years when retesting occurs.
To complicate matters further, road tests are available in even the smallest of communities and may be taken in the smallest of cars, and yet, a passing mark yields a license that permits the holder to drive any size vehicle in that license class in downtown Toronto, Detroit, Montreal, Los Angeles or Vancouver.
Think about: You take your road test in the tiny interior town of Sparwood, BC, in a Smart Car. Next thing you know, your new job had you driving a service van or full-size car or pick-up in downtown Edmonton. How on earth can we think this person has been prepared to meet the challenge? Yet, if they fail to measure up and have an incident or accident, we may blame them for not taking enough care or not being defensive enough.
What other occupational duty that exposes employees to high risk requires no initial or refresher training or recertification? Even first aid requires regular re-training and qualification. Furthermore, driving remains to be the most probable activity to result in an injury incident on the job.
Our conversation really got interesting for me when I mentioned that due diligence would be to at least require an annual driver record check, permitting a maximum number of penalty points and provision for some remedial action if this number was exceeded.
This is where it really hit me. My enlightened safety professional colleague asked how we should distinguish between on-the-job tickets and off-the-job tickets.
My response was: The same way that you distinguish between criminal activity on or off the job, you require responsible and legal behaviour among your employees on or off the job.
Driving infractions off the job are equally relevant. Would you hire someone convicted of embezzlement, while off the job, to work in your accounting department?
Employers can enhance employee safety and demonstrate due diligence with a few simple steps:
- Check driving records of employees who must drive as part of their duties. Perform this prior to hiring and regularly after that (annual is recommended).
- Upon hiring, ensure employees are capable and not simply licensed, by evaluating their driving skills in the vehicle that will be used for work and in the same environment. Set a baseline and determine if training is required.
- Do the necessary training, if indicated.
- Provide regular refresher and/or upgrading as well as specialty training, where indicated (such as winter driving or four-wheel-drive training).
There are some outstanding and progressive companies that are truly showing the way by embracing driver safety issues and addressing them this way in their occupational health and safety programs (you know who you are).
For everyone else, let's make a start today towards reducing the risk in this most risky of work activities.
Written by: Spencer McDonald, President, Thinking Driver
About the Author - Spencer McDonald is a respected authority on driver behaviour, psychology and training, and is the founder of Thinking Driver. To learn more about Mr. McDonald, please visit www.thinkingdriver.com.