There is a well-known saying: “Everyone is responsible for workplace safety.” While this holds some truth, it fails to mention that accountability is the other side of the coin. Everyone should do their part to ensure safe operations, but laws are in place for companies and key personnel to be held accountable for safety in their workplaces.

Countless commercial drivers share the road with the general public for long hours each day, and they operate equipment from 25,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds when loaded. Safe operations on the part of the driver and motor carrier especially are of utmost importance to avoid crashes, injuries and fatalities.

This is why the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration holds motor carriers and drivers answerable for their roles through its safety and compliance enforcement program — Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA).

Each month, the FMCSA updates the Safety Measurement System (SMS) with data from roadside inspections, including driver and vehicle violations and crash reports from the last two years. 

SMS data collected includes the number of safety violations and crashes; the severity of violations and crashes; when violations occurred; the number of trucks a carrier operates and vehicle miles traveled; and the acute and critical violations found during investigations.

This data is used to calculate CSA Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) scores. Carriers with similar numbers of crashes, inspections and violations are grouped together and assigned a percentile for each of the seven CSA BASICs.

Current BASICs are:

Unsafe driving.

Crash indicator.

Hours of service compliance.

Vehicle maintenance.

Controlled substances/alcohol.

Hazardous materials (HM) compliance.

Driver fitness.

Surpassing a threshold or receiving one or more acute or critical violations related to a BASIC means a carrier could be prioritized for interventions by the FMCSA. 

“Poor CSA scores can lead to warning letters from the FMCSA, more inspections, higher insurance rates and negative publicity. The safest carriers with the best CSA scores show a commitment to safety and compliance,” said Josh Lovan, industry business adviser at J. J. Keller & Associates Inc., trusted industry safety and compliance experts.

Ultimately, clean inspections improve CSA scores, which is always the goal.

Are changes to BASICs on the horizon?

It’s important to acknowledge that in February, the FMCSA proposed changes to the SMS. These changes “aim to better identify the companies needing the most intervention, and also will help companies better understand how to use this data to influence safer behavior,” according to the FMCSA. 

Included in these possible updates is the reorganization of BASICs, which would  be called “safety categories.” 

J. J. Keller recapped the following eight potential changes proposed by the FMCSA: 

Creating new safety categories. This includes moving the controlled substances/alcohol category into the unsafe driving factor and splitting the vehicle maintenance category into two to create the “vehicle maintenance: driver observed” category.

Segmenting of the driver fitness category by straight and combination vehicles as well as the HM compliance category by cargo tank and non-cargo tank carriers.

Consolidating 973 violations into 116 groups.

Simplifying severity weights from a scale of 1-10 to 1-2.

Creating proportionate percentiles to prevent abrupt changes to percentile rankings.

Raising intervention thresholds in the driver fitness and HM compliance categories, which have the lowest crash risks out of the categories.

Focusing on recent violations. Companies without at least one roadside inspection in the last 12 months won’t be subject to scores in certain categories.

Updated utilization factor to account for current trends in average vehicle miles driven per average power unit.

A final rule still has not been issued by the FMCSA on whether, or when, these changes will take effect. However, the window for comments on the proposed changes closed on May 16.

Managing your CSA scores

Carriers should immediately take notice when their safety scores are increasing. Although it’s important to emphasize BASICs near threshold status, it’s best practice to monitor all BASICs weekly or daily. 

J. J. Keller recommends the following tips, which can help carriers improve their CSA scores under the current SMS and will remain relevant in the future if proposed changes take place:

1. Conduct a companywide safety blitz. 

It’s hard for drivers to completely know what is expected of them during roadside inspections without first experiencing them. An actual inspection shouldn’t be a driver’s first time going through a thorough vetting of hours of service compliance, required documentation like CDL and medical certificates and a vehicle inspection.

An internal safety blitz will provide drivers, particularly entry-level drivers, with the knowledge and confidence needed to obtain clean inspections.

For example, to emphasize the hazardous materials BASIC, safety personnel should carefully inspect units for proper placarding, hazmat shipping paper accessibility and load securement. Many new drivers have minimal experience with roadside inspections involving a placarded trailer.

2. Administer audits on pre-trip inspections before drivers exit the yard.

Pre-trip inspections are an essential way for drivers to ensure the full operability of their vehicles. Without a walkaround of the unit, a driver won’t know for sure that everything is working, and they could be held responsible for any issues in a roadside inspection. 

Many times drivers are less likely to do a pre-trip if somebody else hooked the set for them, and in larger yards with multiple job classifications, drivers might expect that somebody else has already completed the task.

With the proposed new safety category “vehicle maintenance: driver observed,” drivers have even more reason to consistently practice thorough pre-trip inspections. The potential new category will emphasize violations that should have been caught by a driver in a pre-trip inspection or walkaround. This will help motor carriers and enforcement officers identify sources of vehicle maintenance issues and potentially unsafe driving behavior.

3. Encourage safety and maintenance collaboration.

Is your maintenance department involved with safety? If a driver receives a roadside violation involving maintenance, how often does the safety team discuss these issues with the maintenance team? All too often, safety departments and maintenance departments don’t communicate enough, but discussing maintenance violations can help companies identify training issues and prevent repeat reoccurrences in the future. 

If brakes were serviced, and then a few weeks later there was a brake violation, for example, this indicates there was an issue with the maintenance team that should be addressed.

“A safety department must collaborate with maintenance to reduce safety violations, but many safety and maintenance teams do not meet often enough to discuss CSA. During my tenure in the industry, my safety team spoke with the maintenance department every week about reducing roadside violations. My CSA scores drastically improved after only three months,” Lovan said.

Final thoughts

While diligent efforts to prevent violations are the best thing a company can do to maintain positive CSA scores, violations are bound to occur at some point, especially among larger companies with many drivers.

In some circumstances, however, a carrier may believe a violation may not be valid. Carriers can use the DataQs system to request corrections be made on violation reports, an important tool in managing CSA scores.

Leverage a fleet management system, like J. J. Keller Encompass, to manage and track FMCSA requirements for your vehicles and drivers. It will help you improve CSA scores by keeping you on top of vehicle plate renewals, drivers’ hours of service, vehicle inspections and more. Talk with a compliance specialist about a free 60-day trial.

To learn more about J. J. Keller, click here.

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