In 2016, refuse and recyclable material collectors had the fifth most fatal job in the U.S., according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures, with 34 fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers.
Truck driving, too, fared poorly in the BLS most dangerous occupation rankings. It ranked seventh, with 24 fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 workers and 918 fatal work-related injuries.
These figures shed light on how risky commercial driving can be—and why it’s even more vital for commercial drivers’ families to encourage their safety on the job.
But what can commercial fleets do to keep the family engaged in driver safety, especially in light of so many fatal occupational injuries? One fleet has taken creative measures to get the whole family involved, and it’s paying off. From 2013 to 2015, the waste industry experienced 212 fatalities. Yet Waste Connections didn’t have a single fatality. It’s a testament to the fact that when you make safety a group effort, you see positive results.
“Waste Connections is a decentralized company, and that empowers the managers at each of our sites to get creative with how we can encourage safety in new ways, always keeping it fresh,” said Michelle Kenney, Waste Connections’ corporate safety support manager. “Safety is our No. 1 operating value, and we want our employees to be safe all the time — on and off the clock.”
Here, Kenney suggests four key ways fleets can make safe driving a family affair, no matter which industry they call home:
1. Encourage drivers to involve their families in safety-related programs. When Waste Connections holds its Smith System defensive driving course every two years, a few of the company’s districts have invited the teens of employees to take the course with their parent.
The class reviews the five keys of the Smith System and safe driving basics such as slowing down, mirror placement and keeping “a doughnut” of safety around the vehicle.
“Even when the teens don’t come to the class, we encourage our drivers to teach the Smith System keys to their kids who are learning to drive,” said Kenney, a certified safety trainer who’s worked at the company for 17 years.
“We hear all the time from our drivers that they believe it’s improved their teenagers’ driving skills,” Kenney continued. “If we can get our employees to teach their family members the five keys, that is only going to keep safety ingrained in our team’s thoughts as they’re on the road driving for us. And their families will be safer on the road as well. It’s a win-win.”
2. Send letters of positive feedback to safe drivers. In an article about how handwritten notes impact the workplace, Forbes magazine recounted how former Campbell’s CEO Douglas Conant wrote 30,000 handwritten thank you notes to employees during his tenure. It helped put the focus back on the company’s people. It has the same effect at Waste Connections.
“Sending letters of positive feedback to a driver at home does a lot for their morale,” Kenney said. “And the feedback they get from their families sticks with them a lot longer than anything we could say as their employer.”
Kenney has been approached by employees’ spouses, who say the positive feedback a husband or wife receives, such as a customer compliment or a mention in a safety newsletter, is displayed on the refrigerator alongside kids’ report cards and drawings.
“It’s getting safety from the head to the heart that is most important in creating a strong safety culture,” Kenney said. “Home is where the heart is, so it’s definitely a great way to give our employees a feeling of pride regarding their safe habits.
3. Host safety rodeos for your best drivers and their families. When Waste Connections hosted 15 district and regional safety rodeos last year as part of a new pilot program, the organization was optimistic. But the results exceeded expectations—so much so that this year Waste Connections is on track to have 40 rodeos nationwide (see a truck rodeo in action).
To compete in a Waste Connections district and regional safety rodeo, drivers must go three years without a safety incident of any kind. It’s no easy task, especially in an industry where work-related injuries are so prevalent. Simply running over a rut or sideswiping a mailbox can earn drivers a seat on the sidelines.
The drivers also must have zero Lytx safety program points or coachable events for a year prior to competing. DriveCam program points are accumulated through unsafe driving habits that can result from lack of awareness, close following and other risky behaviors.
“Safety rodeos are a great way to get the entire family involved in safety and make everyone feel appreciated,” Kenney said. “The drivers get into it. They want to drive in front of their families, and their confidence soars because their kids and spouses are there watching.”
Safety rodeos—competitive obstacle courses that take about seven minutes to maneuver—include feats of agility such as parallel parking, weaving through barrels, and picking up a basketball with a scoop. As drivers compete, their spouses and kids root them on and are treated to face painting, games and food trucks.
“Safety rodeos give families a stake in the game, so to speak,” Kenney said. “By coming out to cheer their drivers on, they’re able to play an active role in their driver’s success.”
4. Launch a Driver of the Year program. The Driver of the Year program is a highlight among Waste Connections employees, Kenney said. Every September, the company brings its six safest drivers from around North America to its annual meeting to be recognized. One driver per region is honored.
To be nominated for Driver of the Year, each nominee must go five years without an incident and three years without a DriveCam program point or coachable event. “Most of the drivers haven’t had an incident for their entire career,” Kenney said. “Some have upwards of 40 years of safe driving to their name, and some have never had a single DriveCam program point.”
With such impeccable safety records, the drivers of the year are brought to Waste Connections’ Houston headquarters, where they and their spouses are celebrated at an awards ceremony.
“In the 17 years I’ve worked for the company, our Driver of the Year program has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been part of,” Kenney said. “It’s such an honor for all of us to celebrate these ‘rock stars’ of the road, and it’s been very good for energizing our drivers.”
Drivers at the event are the stars, receiving a standing ovation for their safety records. Everybody wants to meet the drivers and shake their hands, and the spouses appreciate it and feel honored. In addition, drivers and their spouses form lasting friendships there.
Ultimately, all of these initiatives “serve as a reminder that safety impacts the whole family,” Kenney said. “It doesn’t just begin and end with the drivers. Their well-being impacts their kids, their spouses, their parents—everyone. When the drivers are safe, everyone rests easy.”
Other simple ways fleets can involve the family in driver safety:
- Encourage families to ask drivers about their day and what safety lessons they learned.
- Share with spouses any safety messages communicated during the week and encourage them to discuss the messages with the driver.
- Suggest that family members send a note of support, encouraging drivers to be careful on the road.
- Have the family celebrate any safety accomplishments or accreditations the driver may have received.
- Have the family take an active role in their driver’s safety by understanding the training, policies, or safety technologies used by the company.