Sweeping Employee Training and Management
Learning From and Eliminating Sweeper Operator Errors
Scott Cerosky started providing insurance to the power sweeping industry over two decades ago and transitioned to covering the entire pavement maintenance field soon after. This article and connected audio podcast with him discusses the trend of insurance claims he has seen due to operator errors.
by Ranger Kidwell-Ross
Cerosky began our interview by differentiating between "accidents" and "incidents." Accidents, says Cerosky, are things that happen that could not have been controlled by different actions on the part of the vehicle operator. I.e., they are beyond the control of those involved in the situation. Incidents, on the other hand, he defined as situations that could have been forestalled had the participants taken different action. When incidents occur – whether due to wrong action or inaction of the participants – it often sparks a claim from one side or the other or both.
Put another way, incidents are occurrences where the vehicle operator(s) could have implemented different protocols to keep the situation from happening. It should come as no surprise that one of the largest reasons for more accidents occurring is the rise in available technology such as cell phones and tablets. In the insurance business, these are called "contributors to distracted driving." These days, the distraction caused by hand-held devices is one of the leading causes for many serious incidents that occur on the road, especially rear-end events. When drivers take their eyes off the road, even for a few seconds, bad outcomes can and do occur.
Another significant contributor toward the driving incidents that are pushing up the cost of insurance is sleep deprivation. Many pavement maintenance activities, including parking lot sweeping, are held during nighttime hours. As a result, there is a higher likelihood that workers may not have gotten the sufficient amount of sleep during the day needed to do their job alertly and effectively.
Fortunately, a high level of training that covers the above two topics can make a real difference in the frequency of traffic-related incidences. Cerosky says his organization has seen a significant level of improvement when operators are well trained and when the training is ongoing and frequent. He also discussed a relatively new technology that, when implemented, can make a big difference in the vehicle incident rate: installing camera systems that are integrated with the vehicle and aimed at both the operator and ahead of the vehicle.
Typically, the report function of these systems will flag when the vehicle operator doesn't drive as s/he should. As examples, they are usually set up to show when the driver brakes, accelerates or turns too hard. It might also show the driver did not brake, accelerate or turn when they should have. Although the cameras operate continuously, one of their most important functions is that when an incident occurs they will automatically 'grab' all the footage from, say, a minute before the incident and carrying through to the conclusion of it.
If such a system is operating, it will most certainly catch whether the operator was distracted before or during a crash, often providing proof positive of the reason for it. When a sweeping or pavement maintenance company has such a system in operation, it goes a long way toward mitigating what happens next. The camera will likely capture enough information to show who is at fault, for example.
However, there also needs to be in place driver education about safe driving practices – e.g., no cell phone or tablet use while operating a vehicle. You will also want to have a written policy in this regard, one that is not just read but also signed for by all of your vehicle drivers. "When you hire an operator," said Cerosky, "you must train them on the correct procedures and protocols as well as get them to sign off in writing on the training they have received. They need to sign off on everything included in the scope of work of their new job.
"It is vitally important, though, that training and procedures about driving are not a one-off affair. Rather, operators should be given continuing education that covers all safety aspects of their job, including correct driving procedures. It is absolutely critical that this ongoing training is done in order to mitigate future events."
Cerosky also included a strong recommendation that contractors join one of their industry associations, since many offer information on these types of topics. For example, the North American Power Sweeping Association (NAPSA) offers a Certified Sweeper program as well as a driver training module and the World Sweeping Association (WSA) offers a monthly safety bulletin and a wide variety of informational and training materials about many aspects of running a sweeping contractor business. The fact of having gone through targeted, industry-specific, training may even make a difference in the outcome of litigation in a court case.
Unfortunately, even though you have an operator sign for having received all of the training as well as agreeing not to use any handheld devices while operating a vehicle, that doesn't of dissolve the company from its liability when traffic incidents occur. That's yet another reason to emphasize ongoing and frequent reminders about driving best practices.
Going back to camera systems: Because sweepers operate at a slow speed much of the time, there are a number of incidents that occur as a direct result of that fact. This means that, when you have such a system installed, it may well show as proof positive that your operator was not at fault.
Vehicle and operator monitoring systems are not there to get 24/7 footage of operator behavior, says Cerosky. However, the record it makes is invaluable when there is a 'trigger event.' That's when they capture exactly what happens in a vehicle crash, for example, including providing a record of what happened in a specific time period before the crash. The same may be implemented for other actions, such as hard braking, etc.
The reports generated are great sources of feedback for drivers, as well as provide important information for the management team. When you know that your driver has had instances of hard braking, hard turning, or a near miss incident, then there can be preemptive coaching of that operator. That constitutes a best case scenario for preventing something more serious from ever occurring. On the other hand, if there is an incident where people and property are hurt seriously, the record from a drive camera system can be extremely important.
John Meola, the national safety expert who provides a safety bulletin to the members of the World Sweeping Association each month, also emphasizes the importance of having this type of information. That's the only way an entire organization can learn from what might be called "outlier" incidents that occur as a result of the action – or inaction – by individual drivers in the company.
Cerosky related that many of the insurance claims in the sweeping industry point back toward sleep deprivation. This may be seen by the driver camera because data is collected prior to any incident that occurs. Especially these days when people are working a second job in order to make ends meet, knowing that your drivers are getting enough sleep is very difficult. The phenomena of people going to sleep briefly, called "micro-sleeps," (MS) is well documented. Wikipedia terms micro-sleep as: "A temporary episode of sleep or drowsiness which may last for a fraction of a second or up to 30 seconds where an individual fails to respond to some arbitrary sensory input and becomes unconscious. MSs occur when an individual loses awareness and subsequently gains awareness after a brief lapse in consciousness, or when there are sudden shifts between states of wakefulness and sleep. In behavioral terms, MSs manifest as droopy eyes, slow eyelid-closure, and head nodding. MSs often occur as a result of sleep deprivation, though normal non-sleep deprived individuals can also experience MSs during monotonous tasks."
"Some people will say," said Cerosky, "I don't want a record of an accident that positively shows my driver was at fault. That is an absolutely incorrect point of view because the insurance industry has proven that when an insured is at fault and the drive camera system has documented what happened, it allows the insurance company to mount an expeditious defense using the known facts. What we call a 'long defense tail' – when different very expensive procedures, like discovery, must be done to discover what actually occurred – is eliminated.
Keep in mind that in any accident situation cellphone records and any other available data is all available by subpoena. So if an operator was on the phone and got in the wreck, that information is going to come out eventually. If, in the end, what will be learned is the same as what would have been on a drive camera, the lack of the camera information will lengthen the time it takes to resolve a case. All of the investigation to get to the bottom of what occurred costs an insurance company money and their costs are directly related to claims' expense."
Cerosky said that in his 27 years of following the sweeping industry he'd recently seen some big changes in the difficulty around finding good sweeper drivers. It used to be, he says, there would only be pockets of metropolitan areas where finding employees to go sweep was difficult. Now, no matter where you are in the U.S., he's heard contractors everywhere are having trouble getting, and then retaining, decent drivers. That's especially true for night sweeping.
In large part, the problem is due to the very tight margins sweeping contractors find themselves with. "Contractors tell me they can only get so much for a sweep, especially now that the third party providers are there. Still, the cost of everything else has gone up, from fuel to insurance to the cost of sweepers. Unfortunately, revenue is being driven down to where sweeping contractors can't afford the better drivers."
As many of our private sector readers will agree, another problem is what happens after you train a driver: Quite often, they take their newly learned skills to other companies with better hours and, perhaps, better benefits and overall pay. Although you can have them sign a noncompete to keep them from driving for another sweeping contractor, that doesn't mean they can't end up with a driving job in another field, or even as a municipal sweeper operator.
In the audio podcast, Cerosky speaks at length about this aspect of the problem, which contractor readers will definitely want to listen to. This part of the conversation starts at about the 25-minute time stamp on the audio file. That's where Cerosky begins discussing the need for the contractor segment at large to band together to find ways to get prices per sweep to rise globally.
Also discussed in the podcast is the effort underway to develop for the industry operator trainings and an ANSI certification, in hopes those can be things that can differentiate contractors from the lower tier of providers.
Although there is no single 'magic bullet' that will solve these issues, the information above shows there are many actions that can be initiated where, in the long run, positive change can be generated. From Cerosky's perspective as a long time insurance provider, he stresses the importance of working with your insurance agent to uncover all of the ways you can make your operation safer, run more smoothly and, for those who are contractors and not municipalities, be more profitable.
It's also incumbent upon the sweeper management teams to take advantage of all of the training tools and educational information available to them. The information needs to be implemented, as appropriate, not just within your driver pool but throughout your entire organization – the management team, maintenance team and all of the company personnel.
Finally, says Cerosky, the most important thing I've seen about the training after all these years is that it must be repetitive. If it's a one-time notification or training that won't work. If it's not repetitive then it won't be effective. One thing I've seen over my decades of involvement with the sweeping and pavement maintenance industries is that the companies with ongoing training and education are the ones where you see the largest drop in claims.
We suggest that sweeping contractors, especially, will also want to listen to the audio podcast that formed the basis of the above article. The audio is linked here and will open into a new window and play without downloading any files onto your computer.
We encourage you to take preventive action to keep from having a sweeper that looks like the one to the left. To get information about the many types of driver camera systems available, we suggest you put 'car camera with gps event recording system' into Google or other search engines.
Scott Cerosky is a risk management specialist with many years of experience in the pavement maintenance insurance field. He is a principal with the World Insurance Associates, LLC, and also sits on the National Pavement Advisory Council.
You may reach Scott Cerosky via email sent to email@example.com. His phone number is 914-714-0787.
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