Is Automated “Near-Miss Incident Reporting” A Good Idea?

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Some of you might know that I founded an organization in 2003 called the Direct Delivery Leadership Council (DDLC).  This is a group of companies like Pepsi, Frito Lay, Kraft, Eddy’s Ice Cream, Schwan’s, Ecolab, Coca Cola and others that are engaged in the local delivery of products of services. 

At one moment they have employees who are professional drivers, and the next they are engaged in physical delivery of products or services.  The work involves driving through city traffic all day long, and making dozens of stops to deliver goods.  It’s physically demanding work.  Needless to say, crashes and physical injuries are common.

Lately, some of these delivery companies have been approached by organizations selling technology that monitors the driving performance of the delivery drivers.  These on-board devices range in complexity, usually recording rapid vehicle movements like sharp turns or hard stops and sending the data via cell technology to data centers for processing.  Some of these technology companies even uses video to capture incidents for coaching.  I must admit that this is great information and is quite accurate in capturing near-miss events (and a few crashes as well).  Occasionally, the video clips show the lack of seat belts and cell phone usage.  It’s great information for behavior change coaching.  I call it “Automated Near-Miss Reporting”.

The more I have learned about these systems, the more I see their value.  However, I also see them being used inappropriately.  Rather than used to find drivers who need to improve their driving habits and providing coaching toward that end, some companies use the technology primarily to weed out bad apples.

Okay, I’ll be the first to say that some bad apple weeding may be necessary.  But, since these systems are usually catching events that involve something that’s wrong, they can’t be used very effectively for positive motivation.  What about all the good things done all day long, and over thousands of miles driven?  How are they reported and rewarded?  Hmmm.

Then, imagine being a supervisor who receives and email about an event.  She has been told that each employee involved in an event must be coached within 3 days.  Now let’s suppose that she has 14 drivers and today she receives a total of 4 event reports.  Where will she find the time to talk with or coach these drivers?  And now the next day she gets 2 more event reports.  Are her drivers really that bad?  Sometimes they are, but not always. 

With most of the devices in use, the drivers know immediately when an event is recorded, so they are waiting for the call from their supervisor.  The drivers already know that they will have to sit down with the supervisor and discuss the situation that set off the device.  They brace for, “What were you doing wrong?”,  “Slow down and don’t follow so closely!”, “One more event and you’re out of here!”

I think you see the trend.  Not only are the events in and of themselves negative, but the interactions and their repeat nature are negative as well.  Automated near-miss reporting can be very good, but how do you factor in the “catching you doing something right” situations.  It can’t be all bad if we want to engage the drivers and get them to change for the better!

There are many factors needed in order for near-miss reporting to be effective.  Included are: a willingness by the organization to learn from its mistakes, open and honest communication between workers and supervisors, the removal of fear of reprisal for reporting, positive motivation to report near-miss situations, and positive actions taken immediately to eliminate the problems reported.

It will be very interesting to see how these technology companies and their systems develop over the coming years.  I’ll bet that the technology company that figures out how to help their clients improve their overall safety culture, while using their devices will be the big winner.  And the direct delivery companies who effectively incorporate onboard technology and develop sustainable safety cultures will reap big rewards through decreased costs, driver retention and improved profitability.  Stay tuned!