When it comes to creating a safe work environment, a solid maintenance program can make all the difference. Bradley Northup, public works superintendent of fleet operations for the City of Carlsbad, California, believes the two go hand in hand and has taken steps to ensure everyone is running a secure vehicle that is regularly taken care of.
Northup said the two main factors that create a strong maintenance program are consistency and clear communication.
Without communication, vehicle uptimes will decrease and safety issues will increase. For example, drivers may not bring their vehicles in for service on time because they aren’t aware of when or how they should, or they expect a regular maintenance service to take longer than they would like.
“Let’s be honest, not many drivers care for their fleet vehicles as if they were their own,” Northup explained.
Without consistency, drivers won’t trust they are being provided with accurate information and will likely ignore requests for vehicles to be brought in for service. Automated preventive maintenance (PM) reporting and overdue lists can help with regular communication, but it can be difficult to ensure the consistency and accuracy of the information being sent without proper staffing and focus.
“For smaller fleets like ours, we’ve gone a bit old school and are following the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) mantra. Each one of our vehicles gets a service card hanger that indicates to the driver everything that was done during their last service, and an oil change reminder sticker of their next service date or mileage on the windshield. It may seem insignificant, but this level of service is no different than what someone would expect from getting their own personal vehicle serviced by a dealership or other automotive shop,” he said.
Fleet management also provides a monthly PM service schedule (in two- to three-month blocks) posted on the city’s intranet webpage for departments to review what day their vehicles should be serviced so there is ample time for them to plan on getting the vehicle in.
Northup said empowering staff to feel comfortable about voicing concerns, taking those concerns seriously, and making sure they all understand their safety is your top priority will help create a safety-first culture.
“Your staff are your first line of defense out there on the shop floor, and a safety culture of ‘see something, say something’ will go a long way to creating a safe working environment,” he explained.
“Our technicians know if they see something that isn’t safe, they can speak up; we want them to. They are our eyes and ears out there. Without them, we don’t stand a chance at preventing injury.”
Make sure to do your homework; don’t just assign a safety requirement because of a perceived risk. Northup said safety training for staff loses a lot of validity if all you do is train on non-fleet related safety items.
“I understand ergonomics to a certain extent, but in the shop, you’d really benefit from a relevant program that includes everyday items like vehicle lifts, floor jacks, eye protection, hazardous materials, slips/falls, etc.,” he said.
This will also help save time. For example, Northup recently reviewed the shop’s existing Cal/OSHA safety program for personal protective equipment (PPE) and identified a medical evaluation, specialized training, and fit test requirement for respirators that was not relevant to the existing fleet operation. Adhering to this Cal/OSHA requirement meant extra time and effort in providing training and fitted PPE for each employee.
Where most automotive repair facilities are required to do annual trainings, Fleet was being asked to comply with Cal/OSHA requirements for respiratory protection due to a “perceived exposure above the permissible exposure limit” while welding materials inside the shop. No one ever took the time to prove if that level of protection was even necessary in that working environment.
So, Northup set up a test scenario and conducted air sampling of the fumes created while welding different metals in different areas of the shop. The results indicated the airborne exposures were well below the Cal/OSHA Action Levels and Permissible Exposure Limits, and Fleet was able to do away with unnecessary specialized trainings and custom PPE fit testing.
“The time and money saved on that unnecessary training and equipment purchases are serving well to provide better and more suitable education and equipment elsewhere in our fleet operations to the benefit of our technicians,” he explained.