Turn regulations into policy to ensure compliance

By Matthew A. Daecher

I do not need a crystal ball to tell me what comes to mind for most bus company owners when they hear the word compliance. I already know they would say DOT regulations.

If I asked what comes to mind when they hear the word accountability, they would probably say something about the consequences of not complying with DOT regulations. I have to agree with their correlation of compliance and accountability. The brave souls in the transportation industry know DOT compliance is mandatory and that they will pay the price for non-compliance.

Most company owners accept responsibility to comply so they will never have to face the consequences. Without accountability or never having to face the legal ramifications of operating outside the regulations, I do not think many owners would work as diligently as they do to stay compliant.

Many rules go unnoticed

The fact is many of the rules in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations go unnoticed, unheeded and often unchecked. The outcome of a DOT compliance review often hinges on only a small fraction of those regulations, and I see the unintended results all too frequently.

Regulations for which accountability is little to none make it easier for an operator not to comply — that is if he is even aware of the more obscure regulations. This may sound familiar to anyone unfortunate enough to experience litigation related to an injury accident. While the inspectors may not hold an operator accountable for every DOT regulation during a compliance review, a knowledgeable attorney will certainly ensure such accountability during a lawsuit.

From a risk management point of view, management must consider all matters concerning compliance and accountability in a greater context than merely adhering to agency regulations. Replace the word regulation with policy and compliance is as important to viable risk management as it is to the legalities.

Driver performance and behavior

Every company develops its own rules and policies to influence employee behavior. In a transportation company the more common policies and rules deal with driver performance and behavior — from attendance, procedures and paperwork to customer service and safe driving. Drivers in violation of the prescribed standards are accountable for their actions, or at least they should be. Frequent infractions may certainly result in the loss of their job and possibly end their career. A company that does not hold drivers and all other employees accountable for non-compliance with the established rules and regulations cannot successfully manage its risk.

However, accountability should not end with drivers and other front-line employees. Company policy must hold everyone in the organization accountable for their actions and performance. Many operations falter when they fail to apply this concept to the managerial ranks. I frequently see managers who have become lazy, or who interpret policies to fit their needs where there often is little consequence for not complying with an established policy, particularly in companies with multiple operating locations. There is no reason to view performance of management any differently than drivers.

Effective risk management requires properly executed policy combined with consistent accountability throughout the entire organization. Making some policies or processes more important than others can easily sidetrack even companies with strong organizational accountability. Adherence to policy can get difficult during times of hardship, which makes compliance easy to overlook. Such behavior only increases risk, especially if an overlooked policy directly affects safe operations. It also sends the message that it is okay to not comply. Such a practice will systematically reduce the overall effectiveness of a risk management program by defeating the intent and effectiveness of the policies established to reduce the risks.

The concept of organizational accountability is vital to any effective risk program.

To achieve accountability throughout an organization, companies must implement specific policies that measure performance and compliance at every level, and spell out the consequences for failure to comply with the requirements of the established policy.

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