The trucking industry saw many changes as it began 2020, including fallout from an ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, the challenge of finding qualified drivers, and requirements for the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) by operators of commercial motor vehicles.
By March, uncertainty became the new normal as COVID-19 altered the health, safety and economic landscape across the country; its effects were felt industrywide. Companies reported losses in sales and layoffs of employees. Some firms haven’t survived the economic downturn, filing for bankruptcy.
To continue in an unpredictable business climate, carriers are adjusting to doing more work with less staff and resources. Safety directors are particularly affected, overwhelmed with tasks related to COVID-19, such as testing, personal protective equipment and disinfectant measures, in addition to ensuring drivers are following safety and compliance procedures. Based on the size of the fleet, managing such procedures has become a full-time position.
No matter the company size, pressure is increasing to ensure drivers and staff remain healthy, safe and comply with the myriad of state and federal regulations and company policies, said Steve Binkley, a safety consultant with more than 38 years of experience. “COVID-19 is exacerbating the stress safety departments are experiencing, as they’re adding new safety protocols to deal with the pandemic.”
And because of recent economic conditions, some safety departments are trying to manage the responsibilities with a reduced workforce. “It’s a tough situation because you can only get so much done in a day,” Binkley said.
Fortunately, safety and compliance solutions have been developed over the past several years that can ease managers’ burdens. These tools streamline operations to gain efficiency, increase fleet safety and support a contact-free work environment.
Automated and artificial intelligence-powered applications also reduce costs, improve compliance and give managers more time to interact with their drivers. Communication and coaching drivers have proved to reduce both risk and churn. Add the ability to capture and store more meaningful data, and carriers have a path to constantly improve the overall safety and compliance of their fleet.
“While change can be difficult for many, it’s important carriers embrace new ways of doing business,” said John Van Nortwick, product development director at InfoStream, an EBE Technologies company, which provides safety and compliance software for the transportation industry.
“Carriers who adapt quickly to changing internal and external conditions will be the most successful,” Van Nortwick added. “Those with manual systems that worked for decades won’t be able to keep up with the hectic pace and varied demands of work today.”
Instead of following paper trails and playing phone tag, carriers can leverage safety and compliance software that gathers data electronically from a variety of sources into one, configurable dashboard. The comprehensive information provides real-time insight to safety professionals about what’s working well with their drivers as well as opportunities for remediation.
Managing driver performance is one of many critical duties in carriers’ operations. Ensuring drivers are following Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations and company policies can be a daunting task when trying to enter manual data like commercial driver licenses (CDLs), endorsements, physicals, daily vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs) and training certificates. Mobile solutions integrate components of the compliance process, making it easier for drivers and staff to manage documents anytime, anywhere without touching a piece of paper.
Identifying at-risk driving behavior is another benefit of today’s safety and compliance technology. Carriers can receive daily reports on drivers, providing visibility to those most likely to exceed maximum company safety thresholds. The information can be integrated into an automated workflow so managers can proactively address unsafe activities, rather than reacting to accidents and other events.
Automated workflows can lessen safety departments’ workloads brought on by drivers with hours-of-service (HOS) violations. Typically, violation reports and compliance tracking are done manually. By moving to an electronic format, the process becomes more efficient, and an instant audit trail is associated with each violation.
Shaw Industries Group Inc., a global manufacturer of carpet and other flooring products, recognized the benefits of an automated system to manage safety and compliance for its 1,200 commercial vehicle drivers’ qualification files.
For years, the company had paper driver qualifications files, accident reports, roadside inspections, compliance tracking, training and vehicle records entered manually into its multiple internal computer systems one file at a time, taking hours to compile. It also created silos of information, as each type of data was stored separately and couldn’t be easily retrieved for aggregate reporting.
“We were operating in multiple systems, so managers had to input the information twice, doubling the work,” said Greg Whisenant, director of fleet services at Shaw Transport. “Everything had to be scanned and sent to a shared drive, then manually purged. It was very time-consuming.”
Shaw chose InfoStream because it could manage its driver qualification files, accident data, roadside inspection information and its driver performance points system in a single platform. Additionally, a web-based portal allows its drivers to accomplish required workflow-driven tasks, such as completing an annual certificate of violation, providing an accident-related driver statement, or uploading renewal documents like a commercial driver’s license or medical certificate. Drivers also have real-time visibility to their current safety score so they’re aware of their safety standing within the organization.
The electronic system helped the company move to a paperless reporting process. “Because of the efficiencies we’ve gained with the system, we’ve reduced our administrative labor costs by 33%,” Whisenant said.
InfoStream’s workflows integrate with carriers’ dispatch systems, which is important to Shaw. If a document is nearing expiration, InfoStream’s system will set a driver to an inactive state in Shaw’s dispatch system, so a dispatcher doesn’t assign a load to that driver until that document has been renewed. This protects the company from having a noncompliant driver on the road, which can impact safety as well as jeopardize its compliance, safety and accountability scores.
Many carriers use coaching events to address at-risk behavior before an accident or incident occurs. With InfoStream’s single-platform solution, Shaw can manage and document behavior identified through its video event recorders. These coaching events may trigger additional workflows within the system, such as assigning training, adding points to the driver’s safety score or potentially requiring him or her to sign an acknowledgment letter.
Being proactive instead of reactive is the main benefit of automating safety and compliance processes, said Debi Gonneville, manager-safety at Shaw. “Our terminal managers now have more control over driver compliance with accident reporting and follow-up. This allows our Transportation Safety Department to focus on more urgent requests and new driver files.”
Gonneville credits the system for improving their fleet’s safety. “InfoStream’s applications allow us to track and respond to events requiring coaching or training in a timely manner.”
While the trucking industry adapts to a changing environment, carriers should consider how, like Shaw, they can benefit from embracing automated solutions. This will better position them to mitigate risk, improve efficiencies, reduce costs and spend more time with their drivers in an effort to manage a safe and compliant fleet.
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