Portland, Oregon– July 11, 2016— I recently had the privilege of speaking with veteran safety expert and retired United States Army Colonel Don Osterberg to discuss his safety strategy during his tenure at Schneider National as well as the future of safety & technology in the trucking industry.  We began with the ever-important topic of creating a safety culture.

Don Osterberg

Don Osterberg, Retired US Army Colonel and former SVP of Safety, Security, Driver Training, Regulatory Compliance at Schneider National

A Trickle-Down Safety Culture

How does a safety director go about creating a culture of safety?

“I would say, for the most part, a safety director can’t create a safety culture,” Osterberg said. “However, he or she can influence those who can make that culture.”

As the Senior Vice President of Safety, Security, Driver Training, Regulatory Compliance his safety strategy was to lead with a moral obligation, while being mindful of the financial imperative.

“Trucking companies have an incredible responsibility to the people with whom they share road while they work to be as safe as possible.”

“If we were involved, and we were from time to time, in a fatality crash, I would ask the family whether I could attend the funeral of the person killed in the crash or visit the injured person in the hospital. I never went to those alone. I would bring other senior leaders with me.”

This is a practice most attorneys will tell you to keep away from, but communicating genuine condolences is the right thing to do.

Some trucking defense attorneys might say this was a legal minefield and recommend refraining from interacting with the families. Don’s commitment to creating a genuine culture of empathy and a moral imperative for safety is evidenced in this unprecedented act of human connection.

“You can look at safety statistics and they seem a bit sterile perhaps. But when you understand that there is emotional devastation that’s been imposed on a family as a result of the failure of the carrier from a safety perspective, it fuels a tremendous passion to say ‘we have to be better than we are. We have to embrace innovation and try new and different things to try to achieve zero serious crashes.’ So I coaxed senior leaders, in some ways, into seeing the moral obligation we have as transportation professionals to be stewards of public safety.”

Osterberg paused. Although we spoke on the phone, I imagined he would’ve look me straight in the eyes to drive this next point home.

“To create a true culture of safety, it is imperative to expose the organization’s leadership to the cost of failure.”

At the end of the day, after all the budgets and all the training, a life is irreplaceable. Osterberg made zero fatalities and injury crashes his goal, in spite of the naysayers early in his career in safety.

An Ounce of Prevention

The road to a company-wide mentality of safety-first is to start with the bottom line. Where is the money being spent? Most carriers, he says, spend between 15 to 20 percent of their budgets on prevention initiatives like safety training or safety technologies and 80 to 85 percent on settling claims when they fail to prevent a crash or injury.Safety Training

“Obviously no company plans to have that kind of prevention to settlement ratio, but it stems from the priorities in the organization. An organization that wants to create and lead a true safety culture must increase its investment in prevention.”

“Many carriers don’t even know where they fall, but no thinking person would draw that line in the 15 to 20 percent range,” Osterberg says.

“Certainly we need to invest more in prevention. When you look at the cost of high severity crashes, and they are going up exponentially, there’s also a financial imperative to operate safely.”

If we are honest, safety and training are always going to be cost centers. The question is not whether safety and training can provide a financial return, but do you want to spend the money on prevention or on settling a claim when prevention fails?

As Osterberg emphasized, a carrier must remember its obligation to those with whom they share the road and lead with a moral obligation to enable the best safety and driver training.

Follow along next week as Osterberg talks about safety and technology in the trucking industry.

About Vigillo LLC

Founded in 2007 by a team of statisticians and nimble software engineers with a talent for deciphering complex information and delivering it in an at-a-glance scorecard format, Vigillo specializes in taking copious amounts of data and turning it into factually reliable and usable information. Leading the industry in trend-setting concepts for fleet safety and business compliance issues for the U.S. commercial transportation industry, Vigillo’s Suite of CSA Scorecards is the most widely used CSA reporting system in the industry today.  Operating on the philosophy of “if you can measure it, you can manage it”, Vigillo presents data in such a way that companies can quickly and clearly understand and address their most critical safety and compliance issues. For more information on Portland, Oregon-based Vigillo, visit www.vigillo.com.