Shoot for true safety

By Christopher W. Ferrone

Knowledge comes from both direct and indirect observation. Indirect observation teaches by showing what others have failed to do. BP’s failings at numerous levels to maintain safety on its drilling rig are a perfect example. The company did not have a clear plan or even a secondary plan. In fact it appears that the company even failed to heed the warnings signs in the drilling process.

Every operation has someone in charge of safety. While the safety department has the responsibility of handling compliance, training, testing and discipline as necessary, the begging question is if these activities actually ensure authentic, practical and tangible safety measures.

I believe they do. But I also am always looking for better ways that improve my safety program.

Safety that works involves building a collection of small viable actions in a process that is ongoing and always changing. Each action by itself may not appear safety related, but as one part of the total collection, each step such as vehicle inspections, preventative maintenance, regulatory compliance, driver control measures, training and common sense all add up to what I call true safety.

Morning start

The operative term here is add up. I start every Saturday morning at the garage at 3 a.m. This gives me extra time to fine-tune my safety program without interruption. I start with over-pit inspections to ensure the reliability of the buses going out on the highway that day. While some may view reliability as being sure the vehicle is useful for the day, utility is very low on my list of items to worry about directly. Certainly reliability is important. An unreliable vehicle always compromises safety when it fails in some way. Reliability is a safety function in my system.

Unusual noises coming from the vehicle usually indicate a problem. A sense of smell also serves as a useful tool. Walking by a bus that has the odor of gear oil usually indicates a hub seal is leaking. Hearing an odd noise or detecting an odor and not checking it out represent poor safety behavior. Caring is the most basic element of true safety.

Don’t be a robot or merely a box checker. Take the safety department to a level of care where everyone knows to stop and look for problems at their least provocation.

Once the buses move to the ready line for drivers to pick up, I speak with each one individually to check their fitness for the day. I want drivers to be wakeful and alert, arriving on time and not rushing to make a diving clock-in. Drivers rushing for the clock are most likely late for their report time, and subsequently late for their order — not the mindset true safety. The drivers’ behavior and best practices are paramount. Personal appearance and mental attitude figure strongly in a truly safe operation.

We discuss the weather and the effect it will have on driving that day, and have a solid plan to deal with the conditions. A safe carrier gives its drivers the option and even encourages them to stop driving as the situation may require.

We review the destination or event for the group and assess the passengers. Are they children, adults or teens? In the event of time-sensitive events with a starting time, the drivers receive instructions to not let the passengers influence their operation of the bus, or where to position the bus for unloading and parking. Passengers often try to control the driver for their personal benefit. The driver is in control and must be the only person making the decisions.

Instruct the driver to not allow a person at the venue provide assistance or direction with backing up or close quarter maneuvering of the bus. Assume ground personnel are not qualified to assist the driver with these tasks. The driver has command of the bus and should not take any type of direction from anyone else. If the situation requires assistance, the driver should get out of the vehicle and have a look for himself.

We recently had a driver back into a tree causing damage to the bus. When he returned to the garage I interviewed him to discuss what had happened. In classic fashion I determined three minutes of unrelated detail. Once I made it clear that this was a problem for me, he admitted he allowed someone back him up around a car that was in the way. I informed him that this accident was chargeable and preventable due to the fact that he let someone control him as opposed to being the person in full control of the bus.

Do not let the current level of safety lull the company into a false sense of security. This is not to suggest the safety department is not doing its job, but checking boxes and filing paperwork is hardly what we are talking about here. True safety is a process of constant attention, evaluation and re-evaluation.

Christopher W. Ferrone is president of Americoach Systems Inc., Glenview, IL, an engineering firm specializing in transportation, technology, analysis and safety.