It can be dangerous on the road. A safety reminder could save a life.
Driving a truck is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Despite an overall decline in U.S. roadway fatalities in 2018, 885 occupants of large trucks died that year, a slight increase over the previous year’s fatalities according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
One way to help ensure that none of your drivers become a statistic is safety training. That includes holding regular safety meetings to remind drivers of best practices — and allow them to share knowledge and experience with each other.
“In the trucking industry, things seem to change constantly,” said David McKinley, a United Rentals driver who’s been driving trucks for 30 years. “Equipment is always upgrading, so there’s always something each one of us can share or learn.”
Getting drivers together for these meetings can be a logistical challenge; so make the meetings count. Keep them short, and cover topics that have immediate relevance. Also, find ways to make the presentation interesting enough to hold drivers’ attention. And, open up the dialogue. “Let all get involved,” advised McKinley. Ask drivers to share their safety suggestions and ways they’ve found to make their trips safer.
Here are a few suggestions for safety meeting topics.
Safe driving distances
Every driver knows how long it takes their truck to stop, but that doesn’t prevent some drivers from tailgating. Wet roads increase the stopping distance, and loaded trucks can take longer to stop than empty ones.
Truck drivers usually get the blame when there’s an accident, but several studies have shown that when trucks and passenger vehicles collide, it’s usually the driver of the passenger vehicle who’s at fault. Drivers should practice defensive driving and never assume motorists understand how long it takes a big truck to brake.
It can most likely wait, but if absolutely necessary to talk on the phone while driving a hands-free device must be used. A lot can go wrong in the time it takes to read a text, reach for food or check a navigational device. In less than 5 seconds, a truck going 55 mph can travel 371 feet, more than the length of a football field. Texting is especially dangerous. The odds of a crash, near-crash or unintentional lane deviation are 23 times greater for truck drivers who are texting while driving, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Work zone safety
Nearly 30 percent of all work zone crashes involve large trucks, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In 2018, trucks were involved in 203 fatal crashes in work zones. Safe work zone practices are a good topic for springtime, when road construction season starts. Remind drivers to get into the correct lane well before a road closure, leave plenty of space between the truck and the vehicle in front, and watch for motorists trying to get ahead of them as lanes merge.
About 10 percent of all large truck crashes are caused by vehicle problems such as brake failure or tire failure. While a pre-trip inspection won’t prevent all accidents related to equipment failure, it will help. Drivers should look at engine components (water pump, alternator, air compressor), hoses and the exhaust system. They should inspect tires for worn tread and uneven wear, check brakes as well as important fluid levels and coupling devices, and make sure all the controls in the cab work properly, including wipers and lights.
Loads that are off-center or unbalanced can shift and affect turning or cause rollovers. Spend 10 minutes reminding drivers how to ensure a load is well balanced and secure. Remind them about the requirement to check their load and their devices used to secure it after their first 50 miles.
Safety in bad weather
Remind drivers to reduce their speed by as much as half (in some cases, even more) and increase following distances in bad weather conditions — rain, snow, ice, fog. One study found that 23 percent of large-truck crashes occurred when the driver was traveling too fast for the conditions. Snow and ice aren’t the biggest dangers; heavy rain is responsible for more than 60 percent of all weather-related fatalities involving trucks according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Also, remind drivers of best practices in high winds. In the hottest months, mention the importance of proper tire inflation to avoid tire separation.
Health on the road
People who spend countless hours in a truck cab can suffer from physical health issues, including obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and sleep problems, as well as mental health issues, including depression. Start this meeting by telling drivers why good health matters. Studies have shown that drivers with multiple medical conditions have a higher crash risk, for example. Then offer simple tips, such as ideas on how to get a better night’s sleep, exercises that they can do on the road, and strategies for healthier eating on the road. Encourage drivers to seek mental health care if needed. Point them to your wellness program if you have one.
Safe driver celebrations
On occasion, use a safety meeting to celebrate drivers who have achieved certain safety milestones, such as 100,000 miles without an accident or three years without a citation. Consider handing out surprise bonuses. It’s a great way to reinforce your safety message and remind drivers that it’s possible to drive safely and still get the goods delivered on time.
Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.