How to use a data-driven approach to improve safety culture

How to use a data-driven approach to improve safety culture

By Steve Binkley, InfoStream Safety Consultant

When I was performing Department of Transportation (DOT) inspections during my career with the Tennessee Highway Patrol, I often used safety data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to determine what carriers to inspect. I entered the carrier’s DOT number into the FMCSA ISS database and their safety record told me where I needed to focus my attention during the inspection.

When I retired and transitioned to the motor carrier industry, I learned that similar data could help me in my efforts to improve safety for the motor carrier. Here are seven insights I learned as my team and I used data to improve the safety culture where I worked and change many of my company’s safety-related programs:

  1. I regularly checked my carrier’s inspection rate on the FMCSA portal, comparing our driver and vehicle out of service rates to the national average.
  2. I also reviewed driver-related and vehicle violations in the Safety Measurement System (SMS). I looked for patterns among violations of hours of service, commercial driver’s license (CDL), moving violations, and brake, tire, and light violations. Once I identified patterns, I developed plans based on the types of violations. Then, I measured the results and compared them to our peer groups in SMS.
  3. Reviewing DOT reportable accidents by state proved beneficial as well. I initially found more accidents taking place in a handful of states. I conducted further investigation to determine if the rate of accidents was due to volume of trucks in the state, the type of load or terrain, location of the accident, experience of the driver, or proximity of the accident to customers. Interestingly, I found our drivers had the most accidents in the states that also saw the most inspections.
  4. We used FMCSA’s Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) when considering potential drivers. When reviewing the data, we considered: 1) Were defects caused by driver error, and if so, could they be corrected with training? 2) Were the defects due to the driver’s employer not having a proactive maintenance and safety program? After analyzing the information, we made better employment decisions.
  5. I also researched data on each state’s enforcement programs and their officers’ areas of focus. For example, I noticed some states seemed to concentrate more on drivers’ hours of service. Other states looked at load securement, and others seemed to be more aggressive on moving violations. With this knowledge, we trained our drivers, instructors, operations, and maintenance personnel on the hot spots in each state.
  6. We learned from carriers in our peer group by studying their safety performance data. When you see a carrier has made significant improvement in an area, contact them, and ask about their best practices. I have found that some carriers are willing to share what worked for them. The priority is safety, not customers.
  7. Schedule monthly safety meetings with all departments to communicate data, objectives, and goals. Share success stories so everyone feels appreciated – involvement makes a difference.
  8. Make changes to the way you train and teach. Don’t be afraid to ask yourself, “What if we try this training approach?” or say, “Let’s take more time when we teach this subject matter.”

Taking the time to review safety data will help you identify where your safety programs need improvement. At times technology can help correct the problem, but without analyzing the data, progress will be difficult. I’m confident that understanding your company’s safety data will head you in the right direction. The first part of correcting a problem is identifying and understanding it.

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