Vehicle Inspections, improving your safety program

Statistics show that during International Road Check week 2019 almost 18% of vehicles inspected were placed out of service for failing to meet prescribed safety standards. Keep in mind that enforcement officials target the vehicle population for specific violations. Hopefully, this number is not representative of what we share the road with. These statistics have remained stagnant for quite some time and have not improved greatly over the years.

The highway traffic acts in the various provinces and the FMCSR set out basic maintenance and roadworthiness standards. The CVSA out of service criteria identifies vehicle mechanical conditions so unsafe as to pose an imminent threat to road safety, and if they are found a vehicle is placed ‘out of service’ until the condition is corrected. Enforcement officials in many jurisdictions have the option to fine, place out of service and seize the vehicle & it’s permit(s) sanctions such as these promote compliance with the law. In addition to the lost time and expense of dispatching a mobile technician to complete repairs remotely, there are points associated with the defect(s) found. The more points a carrier accumulates points from negative roadside inspections the more regulatory attention is received. The recent trend in Ontario has been to fine the company as they are in the best position to control and promote safety. Organizations with great safety cultures fair better in the long run due to reduced operational costs. Here’s some food for thought, take for example a company that has a 5% profit margin and $10K in accident costs, they will need to earn $200K in revenue to recoup that loss; that’s approximately 130 profitable loads!

In my personal experience, the industry’s stance on safety needs some TLC. The current safety climate is focused on technological advances, with the next evolution being driver mental and physical wellbeing. Technology has evolved and has become a necessity in the industry, anyone remember a map book? And that has happened during my relatively short tenure. But as technology evolves and becomes more widely accepted, the driver has remained somewhat the same. The prevailing viewpoint of my truck – my rules still rings true. Regulation and policy changes are viewed from a glass-half-full angle – us vs. them so to speak. Traditional safety, engineer, educate & enforce have been somewhat effective but fails to answer, ‘what’s in it for me?’.  There are still tons of gaps in most vehicle inspection programs however, behaviour-based shame them into safety programs, in my opinion, is not the way to go.

A good start for improving safety culture surrounding vehicle inspections is operational support of the driver’s efforts. Drivers have the legal obligation, like all other OHS legislation to inspect and report unsafe conditions, it is the organization’s obligation to correct or mitigate the risk. CCMTA Inspection Schedule 1 makes this easy as many safety-critical defective conditions are recorded there for the driver to use as a checklist of sorts. Often, for one reason or another, driver inspection efforts are thwarted, be it timing, financial constraints, parts availability, or the dreaded ‘it can wait’. These combined with overall negative organizational views toward vehicle inspection can inadvertently demotivate even the most compliant driver. If driver efforts are recognized not just by way of a ‘good job, here’s a Tim card. Keep up the good work’ but by actually correcting problems and taking driver input seriously, as well as working with and understanding operations staff challenges, and by ensuring that adequate time is given to complete inspections can go a long way to motivate and promote teamwork within the organization.

Educate drivers, operations staff, and management in the same course, if possible. It goes a long way in promoting improved safety culture. Safety team members should endeavour to get the same message to the fleet and its management. Part of culture change is being able to look at the current ‘safety’ picture critically; accepting that bad news is a part of the growth process. Platitudes and clichés have no place in the business of safety, walk the talk if you will.

By engaging drivers and operations staff and genuinely understanding their challenges, meaningful conversations can begin about culture & process change. Everyone should have a clear understanding of their safety responsibilities and be held accountable, consistently. Like every other management program under a well functioning safety management system umbrella, the following basic elements are paramount: set standards, measure effectiveness, address deficiencies & improve; vehicle inspections and maintenance are no different.  Safety culture change will not happen overnight. It is a long-term investment in organizational success and the triple bottom line.

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