Accidents: An Ounce of Prevention equals A Pound, or more of Cure:

It has been a couple of weeks now that we have been braving the winter season. Statistically, this is when carriers have most of our “minor” property damage incidents. If you do not have one, stop reading, research and implement some sort of winter shutdown criteria immediately!
Speed, often is a factor in many collisions. Distraction is another often-cited factor in many collisions but we must ask in each case: “was speed the only reason why we had the accident?” There are many theories on accident prevention, I acknowledge that these are oversimplified: Human Factors Theory (blame the person), Zero Harm (Blame the organization, no harm should come to anyone at work!) Swiss Cheese Theory (Blame the System), Domino Theory (Blame unsafe acts, latent, active and/or dormant unsafe conditions) unfortunately, investigation after investigation proves that no single theory seems to be correct all of the time. There is a new school of thought, which we will examine in a bit: Choice Theory (influence the thought process that lead to the choice that is most likely to have caused the accidents). To reduce accidents fleet-wide, we must analyze each accident not just in a vacuum, but also from an evidence based prospective. We must look at several factors not just driver discipline and training, the blame game usually results in push back and high turnover. We must examine human factors, (not just errors but choices that lead to the error) organizational factors, vehicle factors, roadway factors and of course environmental factors in each incident.

Some carriers have adopted predictive analytics systems, which correlate past accident data, which is then measured against currently occurring events and generates a risk score for each driver based on a statistical model. These systems are very new and depend on high quality data to feed the model in order for the computer to produce an actionable output. These systems do one thing well; separate the wheat from the chaff. Most systems can show you which drivers are engaging in hazardous behaviour and narrow your list from 500 plus drivers to maybe 100 who need coaching. This is great for the safety professional who no longer has to take the whack-a-mole approach to fleet safety. No predictive model yet has proven to be accurate enough to warrant taking a driver out of service for remedial training. There are just too many variables and much of trucking’s telematics are still in their infancy. The good news is technology is getting better and better.

A well-functioning Accident prevention program involves gathering fleet data, identifying at-risk drivers, having meaningful coaching conversations and measuring effectiveness. The data gathering part typically is the most tedious and time-consuming part of the process. I must stress that the data must be clean to be useable. This means driver rosters, unit counts, telematics equipment is functioning correctly with appropriate API installed and working able to identify drivers as they login to the system and track their behaviours. If this is not the case, you must work toward cleaning up the data otherwise you may be misled. Another area where having clean data is critical is accident data. Your safety team must try to analyze as many accidents as possible in as detail as the situation allows. Most carriers set some threshold on when deeper-dives are necessary. What works for your operation will be entirely different from others. How often deeper-dives are completed depends entirely on how many resources you can commit to the program.

Once your team has identified the at-risk drivers in the fleet conversations geared towards influencing behaviour change must begin. In order to do that we must understand the Choice Theory of Accident Causation. The choice theory is based on BBS with a twist; we do not blame the worker! Studies show that most workers do not willfully violate or skip procedures, most of us want to do a good job. Rather, they are influenced, if someone is influenced negatively, we can change behaviour by positively influencing the worker. I often use the example, procedures that are long, unnecessarily complex and contradictory could (not always) inadvertently cause a worker to omit steps along the way exposing them to hazards and potentially increasing their risk of accident. Other times it could be organizationally, we put pressure on workers to meet deadlines and through optimism bias, we do not believe that an accident could happen to us or we have the illusion of being in complete control the situation and inadvertently influence workers to overlook critical steps or rush their work tasks. A driver who continuously uses their hand held device may be experiencing both optimism or hindsight bias and believe they are in control and pose no greater threat to themselves or the public. Each of these mindsets can pose hazards to workers and must be exposed and challenged.

In theory, every human being experiences some sort of thought bias when arriving at any final decision; for reference search thought biases and heuristics, there are hundreds that have been identified! Conversations should be based on the choice to skip a step in a procedure or to perform an unsafe act such as driving faster than environmental conditions permit rather than find fault and blame the worker. Coaches should expose and challenge thought biases and heuristics (shortcuts) with the worker being coached. Encourage folks to take a step back, pause and examine their options before acting.

When designing prevention program KPI, use both leading and lagging indicators. Leading indicators are predictive, forward looking and can help us forecast future performance. Some leading indicators can be training sessions completed, observations performed, coaching sessions completed etc. Lagging indicators can include the standard control charts, collision rate, collisions per vehicle etc. Lagging indicators are great to show us if we are improving, flat or worsening over reporting cycles.

Ideally, carriers should strive for zero harm & property damage. This is a lofty goal, but goals should be challenging and achievable. I believe that a reimaging of your safety team’s raison d’etre is necessary. Far too many carriers view their safety professionals as disciplinarians and cops; leave the discipline for management. Your safety team should be visible and approachable, strive to support, and coach the driver. Your safety team should challenge negative thought biases & heuristics that in theory cause accidents. Your safety team should be able to act as subject matter experts when it comes to compliance, lead and influence when it comes to safety!

James Beaudoin
Jamie Beaudoin is a trucking health and safety specialist. He has been involved in the industry for 12 years in various capacities. He started as a driver and worked his way through the ranks. Currently works as a freelance consultant assisting companies in improving safety culture and regulatory compliance. He is currently pursuing his BCRSP designation. James Beaudoin Trucking Health and Safety Specialist