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12 Safety Culture Tips

While priorities shift and checklists change, and sometimes compete for each other, safety should stand solid no matter how an organization evolves, Fielkow said before listing the 12 ways fleet managers can develop and instill a strong and consistent fleet safety culture:

NO. 1: Safety at core.

Nothing can compete with a set of immutable, non-negotiable values that should include fleet safety. Productivity and production pressure can never trump safety.

NO. 2: What fleets call an accident is not an accident.

Very few things are accidents. Accidents happen by chance and cannot be prevented. Instead, they should be called crashes or incidents because they are “behavior based and preventable,” he said. “Get accident out of your vocabulary. Call it a crash or an incident.”

NO. 3: 99% is not good enough.

If you are an actuary, you look at crashes and probability. Zero is a mindset. You may not get there but you need to not accept preventable crashes.

NO. 4: If you think safety is expensive, consider the cost of the opposite.

Crashes and incidents can result in deaths, in addition to higher insurance costs and expenses, legal problems, bad morale, loss of customers, retraining and rehiring employees, and a competitive disadvantage. A consistent safety program is priceless compared to the loss of life and permanent disability.

NO. 5: Safety extends beyond compliance.

Just because you’re compliant, does not mean you are safe. If a driver is sick or fatigued, don’t drive. That concept is not found in any regulation, but it’s behavior that a fleet safety program can discourage or prohibit.

NO. 6: Safety is leader driven and will not bubble up organically.

Safety is core to operational excellence.

Explore More: Safety Pointers Before You Get Behind the Wheel

NO. 7: Safety is employee owned if it’s leader driven.

The most important group is front line opinion leaders, or champions. If you bring in the front-line drivers and employees, an operation can change for the better. Quoting McKinsey & Company, Fielkow said, “A blind spot seems to be the failure to involve frontline employees and their managers in the effort.”

“Let’s get out of the habit of saying good-bye. I’m lukewarm to exit interviews. Figure out how to say hello. Building bridges instead of breaking bridges.”

By building bridges to new employees, a fleet operation can build a stronger safety culture. “Orientations are like fire hoses. People can’t retain that much in a week. Compare that to integration. It takes six months to a year to properly integrate an employee into your environment. What happens on day 45, day 60? It takes that long to decide whether you want them to be there, or they want to be there.”

NO. 8: Move from a blame culture to a just culture.

“When things go wrong, and incidents and mistakes happen, this idea of progressive discipline leads to mistakes. You are human; humans make mistakes: Was it an honest mistake or reckless behavior?”

NO. 9: Cultivate unconditional respect for process.

“We’re drowning in a sea of papers and PDFs. What holds everything together? Professionals follow procedures. They do the right thing when no one is looking. At the core of incidents is a lack of respect for processes. We need better processes, not more.”

If a process is written at a high school or collegiate level, then it’s not readable to most employees. A checklist provides consistency, whether it’s for the “first flight or the 5,000th flight,” Fielkow said, invoking an aviation comparison.

Categorize life critical violations, such as: If an act is likely to kill or maim an employee; using a handheld cell phone while driving; working while drunk or stoned; failing to report accidents; near misses; vehicle damage; reckless driving; pulling unauthorized equipment; improperly securing a load. “Isolate behaviors that are acute in your operation,” he said.

NO. 10: Dismiss severity.

If you run a safe operation, you cannot get caught up on severity. Whether an outcome is severe or not is a function of luck. Focus on behavior and retrain after a so-called minor incident. A fleet operation cannot measure safety success by a lack of crashes.

NO. 11: Tear down the silos.

“If we run large organizations, operations is responsible for safety,” Fielkow said. “You can’t delegate to a department. Safety is not a department, it’s a way of life. Who’s responsible for safety in this organization?”

NO. 12: Overcome the fear of change.

“The ability to drive change is a matter of trust; the more they trust you, the more they will change,” he said. “The champion is no good unless there is clear leadership support. Put people first. The more you capture the power of front-liners to drive change, the more you’ll get it. A top-down memo on Monday won’t work. Employees won’t support it unless they are included. Bring them in.”

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