Your commercial auto drivers and fleet are vital to the success of your energy business, as they transport equipment, people, sand, water, and fuel to and from job sites. Along with this activity comes the inherent, and unfortunate, risk of accidents. When production and prices soar, the risk increases from more frequent vehicle trips and a limited number of skilled drivers with the proper training and licensing to transport oil and chemicals. Even when activity and prices decline and skilled drivers are in greater supply, a business that can meet the market’s supply needs safely is better able to compete and protect its profits.
Commercial auto claims in the energy sector can be particularly severe, making it critical for businesses to have the right plan in place to manage these exposures. The following fleet practices can help minimize risk:
1. Have a written fleet safety program.
The program should reinforce safe vehicle operation, explain how driving is monitored, and establish or review company policies related to distracted driving, the use of personal vehicles, and the consumption of alcohol and controlled substances. The program should also state the consequences of noncompliance. Distribute the program to all employees who drive as part of their responsibilities and remind them periodically of the importance you place on safety.
2. Implement a driver selection program.
Organizations that lack driver selection programs—or use them inconsistently—could have unsafe operators on the road, putting themselves as well as the public at risk. As part of a driver selection program:
- Require all applicants for positions with driving responsibilities to give you permission to obtain current motor vehicle records (MVRs). Order MVRs in all states in which an applicant has held an operator’s license.
- Ask each applicant with a commercial license for copies of any previous Department of Transportation violations.
- Request and check references for the applicant’s previous employers.
- Develop written MVR criteria (number and/or type of violations) to define an “acceptable” driving record as well as the circumstances in which a driver would be terminated or suspended. Communicate criteria to employees and apply them consistently. Make no exceptions unless approved by top management. Audit driver MVRs on an annual basis to confirm your drivers still meet your criteria.
3. Perform scheduled vehicle and mobile equipment maintenance.
Due to the nature of the business, drivers often operate large trucks with heavy loads, traveling long distances to remote locations. Flat or leaking tires, which are among the most common vehicle maintenance issues, can cause serious accidents, injuries, and property damage. In addition, some mobile equipment, such as fracturing tanks, can sit inactive for months on a site. To properly maintain vehicles and mobile equipment, you should:
- Schedule and complete vehicle maintenance per manufacturer instructions.
- Train drivers on how to perform inspections and require them to check their vehicles every day.
- Plan mechanic visits to the field to check vehicles and equipment prior to transport, especially if equipment has been sitting.
- Require the same practices for any personal vehicles used for business.
4. Require driver training and retraining.
All drivers, from those with only a couple of years of experience to those who are more seasoned, should participate in at-hire training and retraining. Additional training should be provided to drivers who operate special equipment. Training should cover:
- Safe driving operation, including traffic laws, the use of seat belts, and proper vehicle maintenance
- Company policies related to distracted driving, the use of personal vehicles, and the consumption of alcohol and controlled substances
- Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) hours-of-service. Make sure drivers are aware of the number of hours they can drive, how often and for how long they must rest, and what is considered “on duty” and “off duty.”
5. Have a plan to address driver fatigue.
Driver fatigue is common among employees who operate water, salt, sand, and other types of drilling-support vehicles during shifts of 12 hours or more. The FMCSA hours-of-service regulations provide oil and gas operations an exemption to the normal definition of “on duty” for time spent waiting at well sites. However, this exemption applies only to specially trained drivers who are operating specific equipment. Drivers transporting supplies, equipment, and materials do not qualify.
To ensure drivers get the proper rest to safely operate their vehicles, businesses should:
- Require operators to track and report drive time and other related activities (rest, off-duty time, etc.)
- Take log violations and evidence of false reporting seriously
- Install in-vehicle monitoring systems that track hours of service and report when a driver is approaching his or her limit
- Develop a plan to transport replacement drivers for regular sand, water, or other haul trips
Even with a fleet safety program in place, accidents will happen. In these instances, it’s critical that drivers report crashes immediately as any delay could expose a business to additional liability. Completing a comprehensive review of every crash is also important to identifying possible causes as well as actions to take to avoid similar situations in the future.