You probably have a company policies and procedures manual. You may call it the company handbook, driver’s handbook or even just the employee manual. Every employee who walks through the door receives a copy, but do they all read and acknowledge it, and importantly, is it accurate? If it hasn’t been updated in at least a year, it may not be current and could be creating additional risk for your business.
Setting proper policies and procedures is an ongoing task for transportation entities, and a yearly review of policies is critical to managing operational risk. Technology advances and regulations change, necessitating regular reviews and updates of policies.
Take, for instance, the electronic logging device (ELD) rule. Until Dec. 17, 2019, some fleets were still allowed to run automatic onboard recorders (AOBRD). That is no longer the case, but did you update your fleet’s manual to reflect the change? Other recent rules changes include the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse rule that went into effect in early January and the entry-level driver training rule which, as of November 2019, was set to go into effect in February only to be delayed two years in January.
According to human-resources blog HRDaily, there are five important reasons to have up-to-date policies and procedures. Updated policies:
- Set expectations
- Keep management accountable
- Ensure compliance with the law
- Can help defend against employee claims
- Let employees know how to proceed with complaints or concerns
According to Todd Ward, transport consulting practice manager at compliance specialist J.J. Keller & Associates, a strong policy starts with setting the right culture, and it starts at the top.
“The direction to operate and place safety first must begin at the top of every organization,” Ward said. “As safety professionals obtaining certifications such as a Certified Director of Safety (CDS) know, the first topic taught is how important a fleet safety policy is to an organization and how it ties in to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) Safety Management Cycle.”
Ryan Bradley, a lawyer with Champaign, Illinois-based law firm Koester & Bradley, wrote an article for Forbes.com on the importance of businesses updating policies.
“Many … either avoid instituting policies altogether, or worse, scrape a boilerplate policy from the web,” Bradley wrote. “The truth is, your business needs effective and current policies and procedures now more than ever with the ever-changing regulatory framework and the proliferation of threats that did not exist even a few years ago.”
Ward said when consultants conduct on-site reviews, companies are most often out of compliance because of a lack of knowledge, lack of training or lack of management oversight.
“Great companies don’t leave compliance to chance and are in compliance by design,” he noted. “Reducing risk and exposure to litigation and claims is important, but let us not forget what is most important: saving lives, reducing injuries and accidents.”
An updated policy manual is just the start of this. Having detailed and documented policies provides a smoother operating structure, gives employees the knowledge to do their jobs correctly and safely, and gives managers the tools to ensure compliance with rules and regulations.
“Outdated and ignored policies create the ideal breeding ground for liability,” Bradley wrote. “Even if the policy in question no longer relates to your business activities, the mere existence of a policy often mandates that it be followed.”
Ward suggests assigning roles and responsibilities to management, and this includes management training. Properly trained managers are able to use tools such as the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Safety Measurement System to review hours-of-service compliance, roadside inspections and crash data.
Conduct a yearly policy review
A policy manual is not like a Dickens novel — it won’t age gracefully. Successful companies with strong track records of safety and compliance use data gleaned from their safety programs to make effective changes to the policy manual. New equipment or technology introduced into the fleet are other reasons why a manual will need updating. As such, yearly reviews are important to ensure the document remains accurate.
Examples of policies that need updating include those around recent regulatory changes such as using ELDs, Ward said. “Fleets now need to update fleet safety policies to comply with the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse regulations that apply to drivers operating vehicles with CDLs,” he added.
During the review, J.J. Keller advises dating each page of the policy manual to reflect its original date or last revision date; maintaining a file for all memos, directives, articles or other items that contribute to the policy change; and establishing a regular schedule for reviewing policies so that it becomes routine.
“The fleet safety policy should be considered the spoke in the wheel that your safety program revolves around,” Ward said. “It establishes standards and expectations, provides guidance and knowledge, educates managers and drivers, and ensures that the company has guidance for progressive disciplinary actions when needed.”
Communication is key
Communication is vital to maintaining strong policies and ensuring compliance. That starts with managers and supervisors who deal directly with employees. It is these staff members who must enforce the policies, but they are also responsible for training every employee from the time they walk in the door.
“A fleet safety policy should be utilized during the driver’s first day on the job, and the fleet safety procedures should be used to train new drivers to the company standards and expectations,” Ward said. “How can we hold our professional drivers accountable if we don’t train them to our standards and our fleet safety policy?”
J.J. Keller recommends developing a mechanism for employee acknowledgement of policies. This is a critical component of minimizing risk, as the organization can show that the employee was aware of the policy, should litigation arise.
Seek outside help
It’s OK to ask for help. In fact, many companies seek outside assistance when developing their policies and procedures manual. That help, though, shouldn’t end there. Policy management and employee compliance is an ongoing process. In fact, contracting with outside experts can be vital in ensuring policies and procedures are up to date and communicated with employees properly, that needed follow up is conducted, and that documentation is maintained. Lawsuits can be won or lost based on documentation.
An organization with current and accurate documented policies and procedures can expect more informed employees, lower costs due to paperwork reduction and fewer disputes, improved compliance with rules and regulations, and more effective risk mitigation.
“The fleet safety policy is a living document that must continue to be reviewed on a routine basis and updated regularly,” Ward said. “Then drivers and managers must be trained on the updated changes to ensure continuity in a great company’s safety program.”
Regardless of the policies, though, the key is to follow them.