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“Safety culture” is important for prevention of catastrophic truck crashes

Not surprisingly, the “safety culture” of a trucking company is a huge factor in determining whether its drivers are involved in catastrophic truck crashes.

The Transportation Research Board published a couple of years ago “The Role of Safety Culture in Preventing Commercial Motor Vehicle Crashes.

Some key points from that study are:

• Culture and safety have a clear connection.
• Safety culture is best defined and indexed by an organization’s norms, attitudes, values, and beliefs regarding safety.
• Effective top to bottom safety communication and interactions enhance safety culture.
• Terms such as “accident” and “mishap” are often replaced with the terms “crash,” “wreck,”
and other more appropriate, straightforward terms in many safe cultures.
• In many instances, organizations, organizational subgroups, and professions may each have identifiable safety culture.
• Recognition and certain rewards systems for safe behavior are an effective component of safety culture.
• Driver experience enhances a safety culture, especially if that experience is with one carrier.
Driver retention problems, however, have the potential for degrading a safety culture.
• Many levels of communicating safety culture are necessary in “remote workforce” industries such as truck and bus operations.
• Policies, procedures, employee safety responsibilities, and safety messages must be clear and simple.
Hiring practices, safety training and education, company orientation, and safety management are all key components of a safety culture.
• Measuring safety performance of drivers and the organization as a whole are key components of a safety culture.

Actions that companies may take to improve their safety culture include the following:

• Develop or redevelop internal definitions of culture and safety.
• Conduct “Swiss cheese” analyses, to determine what omissions in the management system contributed to accidents.
• Identify and dispel myths, such as the tendency to always blame weather or outside factors.
• Conduct institutional safety knowledge development.
• Define or redefine employee safety roles from top to bottom • Assess the effectiveness of safety communication and reengineer systems of safety communication.
• Create or enhance a system of safety record data collection and analysis.
• Develop or redevelop motivational tools, such as tying driver compensation and advancement to safety.
• Improve driver retention.

It’s a long report. I commend it to any truckers and safety managers who are interested in improving safety.

And I will certainly refer to it in “looking under the hood” of the management system of companies whose trucks crash into my clients, causing serious injury or death.

Ken Shigley is an interstate trucking trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers. He served as chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Litigation Institute, is on the National Advisory Board for the Association of Interstate Trucking Lawyers of America, and is a frequent speaker at continuing legal education programs for the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. Mr. Shigley has extensive experience representing parties in trucking and bus accidents, products liability, catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. Currently he is Secretary of the 40,000 member State Bar of Georgia.This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.