How risky is your business? Featured

7:00pm EDT November 28, 2005
When Emily receives a call from local police at 8:00 a.m., it triggers a seemingly endless stream of questions about her wholesale food distribution operation. One of her delivery vehicles was involved in an accident. Even though the accident itself played out in less than a minute, she rapidly realizes it has far-reaching implications and might impact her business well into the future.

She doesn’t know how badly injured her driver is. Was he at fault? How much is her $120,000 straight truck worth now? She remembers one of the drivers mentioning it might be time to have the brakes replaced. Did it ever get done?

Food products worth $30,000 were in the back of that truck. Are they lying scattered all over the highway right now? That food was on its way to several key customers with just-in-time delivery needs. How badly damaged will those relationships be if she can’t come up with an alternative solution quickly?

Motor vehicles are an integral part of day-to-day business operations. And because they are so common, their ownership and use can quickly become routine. It’s easy to overlook what they are — the leading cause of work-related fatalities.

Maintaining a vehicle fleet is not as simple as buying a few trucks and hiring a few drivers. A safety program, with elements of accident prevention as well as follow-up, is a must for any responsible organization.

Fleet safety
You might think, “But I can’t afford fleet maintenance, driver training and a safety program.” In reality, your business can’t afford not to have these things. A fleet safety program is an investment in your business — not an expense that reduces profits. If developed and implemented properly, you’ll see results. And as illustrated in our example above, not maintaining a safety program can turn a bad situation into an operations nightmare with far-reaching impact.

A fleet safety program isn’t just about preventing accidents. Your organization gains other valuable benefits through fleet safety.

  • Fewer business interruptions because of fewer accidents

  • Reduction in vehicle expense

  • Improved employee morale

  • Improved corporate image

  • Reduction in insurance premiums

Building your safety program
You may have access to risk-control advice through your insurance agent or broker, and a risk-control expert is probably your best source of how-to information. However, you can get a basic program started by following these guidelines.

  • Never forego employment applications, and insist on acceptable pre-employment MVRs and reference checks.

  • Make preventive maintenance and regular vehicle inspections mandatory. Don’t forget to keep maintenance records up-to-date.

  • Develop and use a formal method of evaluating drivers’ current skills and fill gaps by providing training for deficiencies.

  • Place accident report kits in all vehicles, and create report files and follow-up procedures when accidents do happen.

  • Insist on safety belt use. Restrict the use of employee vehicles, as well as personal use of company vehicles. Enforce penalties for misuse of vehicles and failure to comply with rules.

But what makes a fleet safety program successful? Endorsement from ownership and management is critical. Company leaders must commit to making sure employees understand what the program represents and being diligent about adhering to it.

You can’t continue to put off the development and implementation of a fleet safety program. If you don’t already have one in place, begin the process today. You won’t regret it — and neither will your employees, your customers or the general public.

Steve Blankenship, manager, underwriting practices group, can be reached at (330) 887-8417 or steveblankenship@westfieldgrp.com. In business for more than 156 years, Westfield Insurance provides commercial and personal insurance services to customers in 17 states. Represented by leading independent insurance agencies, the product we offer is peace of mind and our promise of protection is supported by a commitment to service excellence. For more information, visit www.westfieldinsurance.com.