An owner of a small trucking company contacted us this week to get some help with his safety management controls – he knows there are things he needs to do but he hadn’t been doing them.
He is a smart man and he knows his assets are at risk – the DOT can be thorough and fines get pretty high, and there are rumors of lawsuits when things go wrong.
This small carrier has been around more than 2 years, so I asked if they had a safety audit – if there were any violations on the SA the fixes are important – no need letting yourself in for repeat violations, as this CAN lead to maximum penalties.
Why, yes, the man said, they have had a safety audit, in March last year. And after rummaging around in some files for a few minutes, they did find the safety audit document. But there are no violations here – not one. How can this be?
The carriers DQ Files are less than 40% compliant, their D & A testing program is less than 6 months old, they have a hit-and-miss HOS monitoring program with a few examples of flagrant false logs, some minor 11 and 14-hour violations, and countless form and manner violations, his maintenance folders have none of the required elements. Let’s just say there is MUCH room for improvement.
So why was there such a contradiction between what I found and what a safety auditor found 18 months ago? The safety auditor said there were NO VIOLATIONS.
Now, I suppose it is possible this carrier was doing EVERYTHING right in March 2008 and just let things go to heck since then. Or, maybe the carrier never got around to doing anything but the safety auditor didn’t do a very thorough job. My money is on the second explanation.
Sadly, I have seen this numerous times since we started our small consulting practice a couple years ago. Safety auditors and investigators doing compliance reviews are sometimes so lenient, carriers think the DOT has no teeth.
Sounds like a good world right?
You try and make a living, and when the DOT sends enforcers out, they are creampuffs.
But overly lenient investigators don’t do carriers any favors, encouraging complacency in the motor carrier community.
I feel sorry for the honest business people who TRY to do the right thing.
They have a Compliance Review, the investigator points out one or two little things, they throw some effort at these things and forget about DOT requirements.
Then, one day a terrible accident takes place. Where are those friendly, overly lenient DOT investigators now? Nowhere to be found, I assure you.
This time you have a CR and the investigator is very thorough indeed. This time they leave no stone unturned. The fines may still be inconsequential, but that doesn’t matter. Once a federal agent puts down on his scorecard that you were doing something that was a violation of a DOT Reg., the plaintiffs attorney (who may be an expert on DOT Regs) goes after the full amount of your insurance limits AND any assets you have or that you might EVER have.
You thought that lenient investigator was doing you a favor, eh?
The best thing DOT investigators can do for you is conduct thorough, tough Compliance Reviews. Sadly, most investigators are not very thorough at all.
A safety audit is supposed to be a lightweight CR, and nearly everyone passes. But, it is meant to be an education event for the carrier.
Most safety auditors don’t do a very thorough job either.
The one I just looked at yesterday was, by definition, one of the worst, but it is a trend that I see all too often.
Any idiot can get a DOT number – it only takes a few minutes. Even the ones who TRY to follow the regs should have several violations when they have a safety audit. It is nearly impossibly to do everything right. But too many safety audits are done showing a carrier was doing nothing wrong when, in truth, the carrier was doing very little right.