August 15, 2008
By Darren Rodrigues
Sinclair-Cockburn Financial Group

Darren RodrigeusWhether your firm has a large fleet, or just a few vehicles, driver screening should be a critical part of your loss prevention program. This is especially true for snow removal and landscaping employees, who often use trucks, backhoes and other large equipment. This equipment brings increased potential for serious accidents that can result in death or injury to your employees or others.

Vehicle accidents are also costly, particularly for specialized equipment. Your auto insurance rates are based partly on your company’s loss history. You need to have policies in place that will help you control these exposures.

Screen your candidates

One of the most important, and least understood, loss prevention principles is driver screening. Many landscaping and snow removal contractors do little in the way of background record or reference checks when it comes to something as important as driving skills. We seem to take driving for granted, until a pattern of losses starts to emerge.

The screening and hiring practices that you put in place will determine whether you end up with “good” or “bad” drivers. These will also dictate whether or not your company will have a favourable loss history. You need to screen out drivers who will cause you problems down the road. There should be a set of specific hiring requirements for new drivers, including the level of experience needed, types of vehicle they have driven in the past, a check of past employment, with references checked, and any federal or provincial requirements, such as medical exams.

Past history is one of the best predictors of future risk. Studies show that 89 per cent of accidents are caused by driver error. Reports also indicate that drivers who have had one accident in the past have a 56 per cent greater chance of being involved in another accident.

A motor vehicle record (MVR) should be obtained for any driver you are thinking about hiring, before the job is offered. There should be specific criteria by which you will judge an unacceptable driver’s record. This will ensure that the people doing the hiring are not tempted to take a chance on a driver with a questionable record. The MVR should be completely clean, or at the very least should have no more than one moving violation in the past five years. Multiple convictions point to a driver with poor or unsafe driving habits. Any serious convictions, such as impaired driving, should automatically disqualify the prospective driver.

For drivers of large vehicles, a road test should be done in which a manager or supervisor rides with the candidate to observe and evaluate his or her driving skills. The test should include backing, parking and driving on roads and in traffic conditions similar to those that are encountered in regular work duties. Emphasizing specific driving techniques is important. As an example, it is estimated that backing up is the cause of 30 to 40 per cent of commercial fleet accidents.

Do you have a policy?

Many firms have no policies or procedures for operating company equipment. Your company should provide each driver with orientation that covers expectations regarding vehicle operation and safe driving techniques. You should be satisfied that the new driver can handle and operate the type of vehicle assigned. In many cases, it’s a good idea to have a supervisor ride with new drivers for at least the first day or two in order to observe driving habits and correct any potential problems or unsafe driving habits. This will emphasize your company’s stand on safe driving.

Obviously, once drivers are hired and leave your facility unsuperivsed, it’s difficult to observe their behaviour on the road. However, you can get feedback from others on how your employees are driving. Call and ask customers about your drivers’ habits and skills when they are on the job. Put your phone number on the back of vehicles with a “How’s my driving?” sign, so that the public may call if there are problems.

Maintain a safety emphasis

Even employees who have been driving for years could use a tune-up. It is easy to become complacent and not think about the consequences of bad driving habits. Annual refresher training should be considered, with a particular emphasis on defensive driving skills. This can be done internally, through videos or safety meetings, or externally through trained consultants.

You should have a policy in place that applies progressive discipline if a driver begins to develop a pattern of traffic violations or at-fault accidents. It’s bad enough if you hire poor drivers; keeping them could be an expensive option when it comes to your loss history and insurance rates. The discipline policy should specify what action will be taken if a driver has a certain number of violations or accidents in any 12-month period. For example, one moving violation might result in a written warning, two moving violations or one at-fault accident would merit a probation period and any serious violation (reckless or impaired driving, etc.) or two at-fault accidents would result in termination. Reviews should include off-the-job driving violations, as well.

Driver screening is an important risk management strategy for landscapers and snow removal contractors. If your loss history is favourable, your firm has a much better chance of weathering rate increases and availability problems in the current tough insurance climate. Reducing losses through appropriate driver screening and selection practices is better for your company, your employees’ safety and your insurance rates.

Darren Rodrigues can be reached at (416) 494-9883, ext. 361 or