Dispatch is the X factor in safety

By Matthew A. Daecher

If an operator were asked to list the most important safety factors in a bus and motorcoach operation, what comes to mind as the five most important points?

Chances are slim to none that dispatch made that list.  Many passenger transportation companies do not realize the dispatcher often is the forgotten ingredient in the safety soup.

The manner in which the dispatcher position can affect the safety program is universal in some ways, but varies in others depending upon the operational profile. The role of dispatchers in an emergency situation is universal to any company, but how they can affect trip and driver pairing, or even the need to consider such relationships, depends largely on the make up of the operation — union vs. non-union, varying types of transportation services as opposed to a single, homogenous service provider, such as school bus.

How dispatch influences safety
For many small to mid-size operations, an intimate knowledge of drivers is most important. Knowing their capabilities as well as their shortcomings allow dispatchers to match the most appropriate drivers for particular trips. The possible combinations fall into three main categories — driver age, health and physical abilities, as well as experience and training.

The physiological changes that come with age are always an important consideration. For example, vision difficulties at night are more common for older drivers, so it takes careful evaluation before assigning trips that include an abundance of night driving.

Sleep degradation is another naturally occurring process. As a person ages, it takes more sleep than someone younger to gain the same amount of restorative rest. Give special consideration to sending an older driver on an extended trip with multiple tight turnarounds, i.e. time off between driving, or scheduling an older driver on multiple local jobs.

Overall health and physical capability are two more factors to consider. A frail driver, someone returning from a recent shoulder injury, or someone who simply is not in good physical condition probably isn’t the best person to handle a charter that involves a lot of baggage handling.

Joint issues or arthritis issues may limit a driver’s ability to move around in the seat to constantly check clearances, and probably is not the best candidate for trips that involve heavy or congested traffic.

As dispatchers interact with drivers more frequently than perhaps anyone else in the company, they are most likely to notice any differences in their appearance or behavior that indicate a health issue, and know to give extra consideration to their trip assignments.

Dispatchers must also consider overall training and experience, what type of vehicle each driver has operated and the training received to operate particular vehicles.

This applies especially to trips that require transporting and assisting disabled passengers. It is imperative in such cases to assign a driver familiar with lift operation and mobility device securement, as well as someone with some degree of sensitivity training.

The dispatchers in any operation should be familiar with these three basic pairing factors. If not, consider the fact that the dispatchers will more than likely be involved at some point in an emergency situation, in which their decisions may affect both safety and the business. Add to this the potential for accidents, the need for dispatchers to communicate clearly and get along with multiple driver personalities, as well as handle all customer complaints, not to mention tending to the regulatory paperwork and tracking duties, and it is easy to see that understanding the importance of the dispatch department, and staffing it with the right people requires an operator’s extra attention.

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