Pre- and post-trip inspections play vital roles in fleet safety and maintenance programs alike, and there is little wonder why. These regular circle checks can uncover emerging mechanical defects long before the issues morph into costly breakdowns, unscheduled downtime, or out-of-service equipment at a roadside scale. Above all, they help to ensure that drivers have the tools to safely perform their jobs.
This hardly means that inspections are always going to be a pleasant experience. Pressures ranging from bad weather to tight schedules and cranky dispatchers all conspire against drivers who want to give every piece of equipment the focus it deserves.
But fleets which recognize the value of these equipment checks have adopted some clever techniques to ensure nothing is overlooked.
Video cameras mounted around a fleet yard, for example, can offer a clear view of drivers who are climbing around their trucks before leaving home base. Managers who simply listen for a few telling sounds will be able to monitor the process as well. Since a complete circle check will always include the blast of a horn, a silent yard is a clear sign that something has been missed.
They are not the only ways to ensure circle checks are being completed. Anyone who sees a dirty sight glass on a trailer’s wheel hub should wonder when the fluid levels were last checked. Some managers also mark specific components with tags that attentive drivers can exchange for a reward like a free coffee. (I know of one fleet owner who even likes to remove an engine’s dipstick and wait to see if the driver comes looking for a replacement. If the truck begins to roll toward the front gate, the driver is greeted and asked if they’re missing anything).
But like every other fleet safety program, effective pre-trip inspections require ongoing training.
Drivers who understand a clearly defined company policy will know exactly how to respond to a minor or major defect as defined by National Safety Code (NSC) #13 – informing maintenance teams about lesser issues like a slow build-up of air pressure before the problem transforms into a failed low air warning system that will place a truck out of service.
Even the most experienced drivers need to be informed about evolving equipment if they are expected to identify related problems. This might mean discussing a new warning light that tells them when a diesel particulate filter needs to be actively regenerated, how the fleet’s new disc brakes differ from traditional drum designs, or the different colour of coolant that has to be used when topping up a new engine model’s reservoir.
Equipping drivers with a few spare parts also help to address identified problems before they become expensive in-shop repairs. Bulbs and gladhand seals can be quickly replaced by those who know how to perform the tasks. Some fleets even offer a cash reward to drivers who bring the failed bulbs back to the shop since their roadside repairs can be cheaper than a mobile service call.
But as simple as the tasks appear, they also require added training. Some of the industry’s newest drivers may never have replaced a bulb on the family minivan let alone add oil to a trailer’s hubs. Fleets which package replacement parts with a related page from the truck’s operating manual can ensure the parts are installed quickly and correctly every time.
A few well-chosen supplies can even make a difference in the inspection process itself. Flashlights help to expose the darkened recesses under a truck and trailer, and tire gauges identify the difference between 100 and 70 psi better than a simple kick of the tire ever will. Visual brake stroke indicators certainly make it easier to check brake adjustment at a distance rather than requiring drivers to reach for the chalk and ruler, and let’s not forget the value of a truck wash, which can expose damage like emerging cracks in a trailer’s frame rail.
Drivers, meanwhile, can be better protected with gloves, hard hats, reflective vests and safety glasses. They are the tools that can protect against threats as varied as passing traffic, sharp edges, and the blast of air from an exhausting brake which can turn a parking lot’s gravel into flying projectiles.
These may seem like simple tips and techniques, but they will all enhance a valuable inspection process that delivers safety and savings alike.
This month’s expert is David Goruk. David is a risk services specialist and has served the trucking industry for more than 25 years providing loss control and risk management services to the trucking industry. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a long standing history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbfc.com.