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A New Year’s resolution to consider

By Matthew A. Daecher

2010 did not disappoint as an eventful year in the passenger transportation industry. The inevitable seat belt regulations were announced, and in December the long-anticipated Safety Measurement System, better known as CSA 2010, became reality for all operators. The sluggish economy continued though glimmers of hope and positive thinking about a rebound were prevalent throughout all industry segments.

This year promises more regulatory changes to the landscape that will affect motor carriers. New Hours of Service rules are in the works along with electronic on-board recording (EOBR) regulations. We’ll see new Entry-level driver training rules and maybe even some changes to the physical examination/medical certification regulations.

Without knowing how these will affect current operations, companies will undoubtedly be busy digesting and adapting to necessary changes in operations.

However, considering the delayed implementation of many of these new or soon-to-be regulations, the most immediate concern involves adjusting to and managing the new Safety Measurement System (SMS) carrier scorecard. Those operators in operational test states or those who took advantage of the data sneak preview offered by the FMCSA likely have their game plan in motion. Those who didn’t bother to check their data ahead of implementation due to a false sense of security provided by the old Safestat system may be in for a rude awakening.

With the publication of the SMS data, many carriers may have already made their New Year’s resolution to improve their statistics in certain BASICs. However, while this resolution may be very critical to some operators who have not been minding the store, I propose a different resolution.

I suggest a resolution that involves the other side of carrier operations — vehicle maintenance. More specifically, a resolution involving the working environment in which an operators perform their maintenance activities.

There are obvious reasons to pay attention to this particular area of maintenance operations — as well as some not so obvious reasons. Obvious reasons include workplace injury management and compliance with workplace safety regulations. The not so obvious include employee morale and company perception.

Every operator knows the potential negative effect workplace injuries have on profitability.  Though not many serious injuries actually occur in the maintenance shop, the fact remains it is   a dangerous area where the potential for serious injury is always present.

When it comes to regulatory compliance, it is well documented that OSHA inspection staffs have increased under the current administration. While transportation operations have not been one of OSHA’s main focus areas in the past, couple more inspectors with the fact that OSHA is required to investigate any employee complaint, and it becomes a winning formula for increased scrutiny in all industries, including the passenger transportation industry. Finally, ask any operator who has been the subject of OSHA scrutiny and it is easy to understand why bus and coach operators should pay closer attention to workplace safety regulatory compliance.

If the obvious isn’t convincing enough to adopt my proposed resolution, then consider the not so obvious reasons.

I have been in many shops in my time, and they range from the proverbial New Year’s resolution “eat off the floor” to the truly incredible, and not in a good way. The actual state of the facility is usually dictated by the habits of the shop/fleet manager who is generally in charge of the upkeep.

If it’s a dirty shop, it may have an old-time – though competent – mechanic, who’s used to such an environment that he has probably operated in for countless years. However, his belief that a shop is “supposed to look that way” may not resonate with other mechanics working under him. Though I don’t have any studies to reference, I can’t imagine that employee morale and productivity is better in a disorganized and dirty shop.

Also, considering the difficulty in finding qualified technicians these days, the appearance of the shop and working environment it provides could be a deciding factor for an applicant deciding where to put his or her skills to work. Furthermore, it may be a factor for current mechanics who may be considering looking into other employment opportunities for whatever reason.

Looking at it from another perspective, what if your shop appearance was a factor in a customer’s decision to use your company versus another? While shop appearance is not typically used in marketing, and customers do not typically see the shop – even those who do visit the offices – there’s not any reason it couldn’t be used to differentiate your operation. Ask yourself – all other things being equal – would you choose the operator with a clean and organized shop or one with a dirty shop? Maybe a more relevant question: If your biggest customer saw your shop, how do you think it would affect their perception of your operation?

Whatever the state of a maintenance facility, its condition is ultimately the responsibility of senior management. To allow it to exist in whatever state confers their implicit approval. Maintaining a proper and compliant environment in the shop ultimately comes down to commitment and accountability.

Matthew A. Daecher is president and CEO of Daecher Consulting Group, Inc., Camp Hills, PA.

Posted by on Jan 4 2011. Filed under Safety. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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