Each year as I write my January editorial, it’s early December, and I am often refl ...
ecting on the year that is almost over and the new one around the corner. As you read this, it’s 2021 and the start of a brand-new calendar-year full of projects, projections - and COVID-19.
This pandemic has thrown the world for a loop, and the ride is not over. And throughout it all, the vocational truck fleet industry has worked tirelessly, keeping deliveries on schedule and ensuring that necessary services were still being done to help people stay safely home.
Many are tired, struggling, and burning out as we near the pandemic’s one-year mark. Regardless of beliefs, we have all been impacted in some way. The fatigue is real. But work trucks must keep running. The wheels are turning, and the rubber is hitting the road.
How do you fight driver fatigue as well as your own day-to-day management? How do you help your staff focus on the job at hand while being understanding and compassionate of a world turned upside down?
1. Have a Plan
First and foremost, any business continuing operations in any capacity must have a plan in place, specifying exactly how to handle a potential or positive case. Fleet managers must consider more than just a business office but the health and safety of their drivers on the road, whether local, return-to-base or long-haul over-the-road and everyone in between.
2. Keep Communication Open
Make sure all employees know whom to call and what to do if they are not feeling well or are diagnosed with COVID-19. If someone has symptoms, don’t plan on the driver self-isolating a terminal, have a plan in place and a direct line of contact for immediate action.
3. Keep Drivers Focused Through Incentives & Gamification
One way you can help keep drivers focused and motivated is through incentives or gamification. There are several ways to promote safe driving, and it doesn’t have to cost the company much if anything. Options can include basic accolades in meetings or newsletters or gift cards to favorite local restaurantsfor take-out.
4. Promote Health & Wellness
Mental and physical health is usually a struggle for fleet drivers, and today, with many gyms closed or limited, personal health and wellness has never been more important. Encourage drivers to get exercise in any safe way they can. Promote the value of proper sleep and eating habits (and make sure your routing and scheduling allow for it!) and ensure that all employees know when they are well enough to work – and when they are not.
5. Take it Day by Day & Be Flexible
It’s not only hard to plan for an uncertain future; it’s downright impossible. With regulations varying not only by state but what can feel like week-to-week or even day-to-day, it’s essential to take each day one at a time and focus on the solvable problems and what you can accomplish that day with the resources available.
6. Burnout IS Real
Currently, those still working are experiencing an interesting dichotomy. There is an intense feeling of gratitude and thankfulness that income is being generated, but many are alsofacing burnout.Many businesses have had to downsize and operate with smaller staff sizes. Some fleets, especially those in the last-mile delivery arena, have seen the demand for their services explode.
And, while some fleets can utilize a quick short-term rental unit when a business has an unanticipated peak, last-mile delivery often requires specialized upfits and vehicles to accomplish the job, ending up with more demand than the supply chain can support.
The Bottom Line
This is a tough topic and a tough time. Regardless of beliefs, it’s crucial to look at your fleet and the people who make it run every day and make sure they are happy, healthy, and able to thrive. I urge all of you to think about your staff’s wellbeing as the new year begins, and I look forward to writing to a different tune at the start of 2022.
What are you currently doing to help combat COVID-19-related fatigue and help keep your drivers and fleet-related staff motivated and on task?
Chelsea, a WorkSafeBC prevention officer, gives tips to employers who are maintaining ...
workplace safety systems along with integrating COVID-19 safety plans.
Understandably, B.C. employers are concentrating on their COVID-19 safety plans. But they still need to manage all the other safety risks in their workplaces.
“Because we are all so focused on COVID, employers may not be taking enough time to ensure their safety systems are functioning as intended,” says Chelsea Wilson, a WorkSafeBC occupational safety officer in Prince George, B.C.
As a safety officer, Chelsea inspects worksites and responds to employers’ requests for help. She says, “We don’t just do inspections and enforce the OHS Regulation — though, of course, we have to do that part. But our main goal is to educate employers and help them through their challenges.”
Chelsea advises employers to use a structured process for managing changes to the workplace prompted by the provincial health orders. An example of one such change — to occupational first aid protocols — is the subject of one of my previous posts, What’s different about first aid in the time of COVID-19?
“An employer needs to get the joint health and safety committee involved in the management of change,” Chelsea says. “You run the risk of missing things if you’re not involving the workers, and the safety committee is a representation of those workers.”
Supporting workers during COVID-19
With all the uncertainty related to COVID-19, workers may find themselves more easily distracted at work.
“These distractions can often come from fatigue, mental stress, or personal problems all coming up in the workplace,” Chelsea says. “Employers need to find ways to connect with workers under the COVID-19 restrictions. They need to help build trust and communication between workers and supervisors so the distractions are managed and reduced.”
Supervisors should monitor and support workers to ensure they:
- Perform all steps in a safe work procedure
- Understand their roles in workplace inspections
- Wear PPE not necessarily related to the pandemic
- Do full preventive maintenance on equipment as required
- Follow up with supervisors or co-workers on changes to workplace processes
Chelsea urges employers to reach out to their local WorkSafeBC safety officer if they need help, especially during this pandemic. She says, “We’re all in this together and we’re all learning. I have employers who just call me and say, “Look, I’m not sure where to go with this. Am I doing this properly? I need some support.”
For more information on how COVID-19 safety has affected employers around the world, see this EHSToday article Refocusing Attention on Safety: A Call to Action.
See WorkSafeBC’s COVID-19 information and resources, updated regularly based on guidance from B.C.’s public health officials. Employers in need of support can contact WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line.
Visit our dedicated COVID-19 page for industry specific resources (scroll down), like Safe Work Procedures, Templates and Form and more!