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Send the same message for all accidents large or small

By Matthew A. Daecher

Accidents are costly. An accident of any degree invites variable expenses that are hard to plan for in any budget or projection. Even the most minor incident or scrape requires greater sales revenue to fund the necessary repair. Still, I talk to many operators who feel accidents are simply a natural and inevitable occurrence given the nature of the business.

This may be true to a certain degree. However, not only do operators assume accidents are inevitable, they also often segregate them into various categories according to their severity. While such categorization may be beneficial and necessary for policy-driven decisions concerning the drivers involved, operators must be careful not to send the wrong message when insignificant accidents occur.

Holding drivers accountable for the more serious accidents is generally a more prominent practice, especially for the driver not following company rules or otherwise negligent, and was a primary cause of the accident.

A major accident usually results in an organization-wide response with swift, negative consequences for the driver. In less serious accidents though, especially those where no other parties are involved, accountability and sometimes even investigation lessens. Minor accidents often result in a simple admonishment or verbal warning in which the driver faces no further consequence.

Companies often chalk up the proverbial mirror or fence strike in the yard to complacency. The driver just let his guard down. Generally, in such cases the driver has repeatedly demonstrated his driving competence over time successfully by not being involved in many on-road accidents. I suppose because the company perceives the cost of a parking lot ding as minor relative to a bigger collision, management is more forgiving of the driver’s actions.

Nonetheless, as with any observed behavior that is unacceptable, understanding any complacency that leads to a driver letting his guard down can certainly crop up any driving situation beyond the yard. This is an important concept for management to embrace.

In fact, accident event recorders have a way of capturing accidents in which drivers have let their guard down. Reports show that these monitoring systems trigger more frequently when the driver is alone.

Why is this? My theory is drivers who are alone and not focused on satisfying passengers needs — and working the gratuity angle — are more apt to let their guard down and take unnecessary risks. It may also have to do with organizational behavior and the subsequent response to such minor occurrences as a mirror knock in the yard, with more severe consequences dealt out only in major accidents. Some drivers may read this unintentional message that risk taking is acceptable if the result of an accident is only minor. Correcting this perception requires assigning accountability for each and every accident and incident.

Management must make drivers more aware by having them own consequences of the risks they face while performing their driving duties.
Experience tells me drivers will better recognize and own that risk once they have something at stake. A simple analogy to this concept is how travelers may treat their rental car as opposed to their own. Ownership has a unique way of instilling responsibility.

Here are some successful methodologies I see operators applying that make their drivers risk-responsible by owning the risks they take:

Tough love — Delivering a consistent, relatively tough response to any unacceptable behavior during individual or company training emphasizes a more disciplined approach to any type of accident. Even a minor fixed-object accident that is otherwise preventable exhibits behaviors that are just as serious as an accident that produces injuries. Receiving a speeding ticket indicates risk-taking behaviors that are the same as those that lead to accidents. From the standpoint of risk, following too closely is dangerous whether an accident occurs or not.

Drivers buy into the risk — Establish a policy that requires drivers to contribute financially to the repair costs for any property damaged as a result of their actions. Even a small amount of financial consequence, perhaps a percentage of a deductible, will enlighten drivers to the costs associated with their actions. Please note: For anyone who decides to employ this methodology, I highly recommend introducing a written document that drivers sign off on that clearly acknowledges their understanding and receipt of the policy.

Stress the economics — Openly discuss the financial outcomes of accidents that have resulted from unsafe behaviors and risk-taking. Drivers will better understand the costs associated with an accident of minor damage and how it affects business overall. Multiply that one example by the number of fixed object accidents the company has been experiencing and employees will get an even bigger picture of the monetary effects.

Understanding the many disruptions to the operation that a minor accident can create should change the way most employees think about their actions and how they perceive the consequences of their mistakes. BR

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

Posted by on Jul 1 2012. Filed under Risk. 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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