The leaves are changing, the temperature is dropping, winter is soon approaching. Driving during the winter can be one of a driver’s most difficult tasks. A bit of preparation can make the difference between a successful journey and one fraught with difficulties. We will examine the major factors of driver, vehicle and journey as well as offer some suggestions to mitigate the risks associated with winter driving.
Probably one of the most important pieces associated with the trucking safety puzzle. The driver often determines whether it is safe to set out on their journey, ensures that the vehicle is fit for the journey and finally maintains control over the vehicle. Drivers should review weather forecasts for potential adverse conditions along their route, smartphones give the driver a valuable tool to assist them with this check. Many vehicles also have access to the weather bands so that drivers may receive timely updates. We can go on for what seems an eternity about what equipment drivers should and shouldn’t carry with them, quite simply a driver should have basic hand tools, first aid kit, snacks, warm dry clothing, a safe heat source and a blanket. Being mentally prepared is another key for drivers, some drivers are more comfortable with inclement weather than others, do not be afraid to wait the weather out and re-evaluate later. Drivers must remain vigilant and monitoring changing conditions during winter operations, fatigue can set in much faster during severe weather operations. Drivers and support staff should never be afraid to pause and re-evaluate.
Driving habits must be reviewed, a gut check so to speak. Drivers cannot rely on normal transit times as there will be slower traffic, and in some extreme cases, impassable routes. Speeds must be reduced, following distances increased due to the reduced visibility and friction on the roads. Companies should communicate the potential for increased transit times to both drivers and support staff. Drivers should have full autonomy to make the decision whether it is safe to continue along their route, without reprisal. Patience is the key to successful winter operations.
Often overlooked are the risks associated with slips, trips and falls in the winter. Most of us think that collisions are the #1 threat to driver health and safety, this statement just is not true. Most driver injuries are as a result of a driver slipping and falling on icy surfaces. Collisions, however dramatic and intriguing, driver slips, and falls are often overlooked as a source of injury, often going unreported for many reasons. Drivers and support staff should inspect for elevated slipping hazards and correct them by ensuring that snow and ice are cleared from trafficked areas. Complaints about customer locations should be documented and reviewed and corrected. Drivers should wear non-slip safety footwear & spikes whenever possible. Remember that spikes in some applications can create hazards such as on steps and on smooth floors. Slips, trips, and falls should be assessed as a part of an organization’s overall safety program.
Tires, tires, tires the importance of a good set of tires cannot be emphasized enough. Some companies tire management systems call for tires to be changed right around this time of year, so there is ample fresh tread contacting the road. Lug tire designs tend to perform better offering better traction in winter weather vs their rib cousins. The ABS and TCS systems on trucks and trailers should be tested as a part of a winter PM. Batteries, alternators and starters should also be tested to ensure they are up for the challenge of winter starting. This list of items is not exhaustive, there are many more items such as air brake system components, exhaust components, APU, fuel, coolant etc. which need to be inspected and working correctly.
To assist drivers and support staff communication, a journey management system should be implemented. As with every safety related control: Identify, Assess, Control, Record. Identify driver hazards such as: collisions, slips, trips, falls, violence etc. The risk of collision increases during the winter months, statistics show that collisions during winter months make up 27% of all collisions reported in Ontario. Snow covered roads are a factor in 12% of Ontario’s reported collisions. Other considerations which must be weighed are driver experience, road type, forecast, visibility, traffic volume, driving distance/duration, availability of communications, high risk locations such as major urban centres & rural/remote areas, mountain driving etc.
Drivers and support staff should record and file journey plans, especially during the winter. Each of the risk factors should be discussed and controls implemented if necessary, postpone travel until more favourable conditions exist. A bit of preparation can go a long way to ensuring driver safety. The cost of a collision these days are too great to unnecessarily place a driver, vehicle & public in harm’s way in the name of ‘customer service’ take the time to critically analyze each hazard before setting out.