With the right policies, procedures, and training in place, fleets can lessen the inherent risks of operating a maintenance facility — without having to compromise efficiency.
One of a fleet’s top risks is downtime. Much can be done to reduce that risk by adhering to a thorough, consistent preventive maintenance regimen in the shop. But a maintenance facility presents its own set of risks, namely in the way of technician safety.
Eric Daniels, director of truck care operations for Love’s, says safety remains at the forefront of everything the Love’s family of companies does, which includes Love’s Truck Care and Speedco. “From the time we interview a potential technician through all of their training, safety is integrated into the process,” Daniels says. “Then, routine safety meetings and continued training ensure that safety is always top of mind.”
Conditioning technicians to work safely is also made easier when strong policies are in place.
James Ward, director of safety and compliance at Transervice, a provider of freight management, fleet leasing, and contract maintenance services, says the first chapter of the company’s Technician’s Safety Guide is entitled, “Fleet Maintenance Employee Rules.” There are rules for everything from safe battery charging and flammable liquid storage to lockout/tagout procedures and dealing with bloodborne pathogens. Safety rules also exist for operating compressed air equipment, welders, lifts, and power tools, among many others.
Transervice’s thorough and detailed employee rulebook makes it clear that Transervice takes shop safety seriously — and that technicians are expected to take it just as seriously.
“Each of our shops is required to perform a monthly shop inspection that covers all of the topics in our safety guide, plus others,” Ward points out. “For teaching purposes, we recommend that a technician or foreman perform the inspection each month, as opposed to the location manager. The manager then fills out a shop safety self-audit twice a year.”
Inspections and documentation are essential tools in establishing accountability, which is essential in cementing a safety culture. Two-way communication is also vital.
“Accountability and communication are what drives a culture of engaged technicians who help vet-out the inherent dangers in various repair procedures,” says Larry Olson, director of field maintenance for the West Region at transportation and logistics company Ryder. “In fact, sometimes a technician notices something that finds its way back to the OE, encouraging that OE to change a component in such a way to reduce or eliminate a known hazard.”
To get to that point, technicians must be held accountable for the safety measures they are trained to adhere to. It is up to a service department’s leaders to maintain that accountability. “If a fleet’s leaders are not safety-minded, technicians will likely adapt to an overly relaxed, injury-ridden business,” Olson warns.
Commitment to training
Instilling a safety culture starts when a technician is first hired.
“Our Learning and Development team provides a robust onboarding process that communicates the importance of what training is required based on various criteria,” says Tim Hoekzema, truck service risk manager for TravelCenters of America (TA). “This helps ensure that our team members get all of the training they need based on their skillset and/or time with the company.” TA Truck Service provides heavy truck maintenance and emergency roadside service.
As for the training itself, TA Truck Service emphasizes hands-on training instructed by skilled mentors. Online manufacturer training is also leveraged, including safety advice in step-by-step procedures.
Penske takes a similar approach to training, with one added twist to video training.
“One of the first steps of our onboarding process is to go through our employee safety handbook,” says Chuck Pagesy, director of safety for Penske Transportation Solutions. “We also provide some online safety training, including an interactive video we produced in-house that covers personal protective equipment (PPE).” Penske Transportation Solutions includes truck leasing and rental, logistics, transportation systems, and vehicle services.
With the help of an outside vendor, Penske also creates customized safety training posters. A safety topic is presented on a poster each month. Topics are based on specific safety-related issues Penske repair facilities have been experiencing.
“We use actual Penske employees and shops to create the posters,” Pagesy points out. A training guide is also developed to help each branch maintenance supervisor conduct training on whatever topic the poster is about.
In addition to monthly poster-based training, Penske also emphasizes daily shift huddles. Each Penske repair facility is given a weekly agenda with daily training topics. Each shift must complete the daily training. Each branch maintenance supervisor is responsible for making sure the training is delivered.
“This is a great way to look at emerging trends and common issues our repair shops are having,” Pagesy says. “It’s also a great way to keep common issues at the forefront, such as how to handle batteries. The key is to keep it at the forefront, and you do that by talking about safety every day.”
Another reason to keep safety training at the forefront is to stay on top of changes in the commercial vehicle industry.
“Alternative fuel vehicles like electric and CNG continue to evolve,” says Chris Hough, vice president of maintenance services for Penske Truck Leasing. “Anytime we introduce new technology to our repair teams, there is always a safety side to the repair procedure training, including any unique PPE they need to use. Anytime you bring something new into the fold, you want to make sure you have procedures written that address any safety issues. Here at Penske, the maintenance department coordinates with the safety department to make sure we are all in agreement.”
COVID and cleaning
COVID-19 is another example of something “new” that fleet maintenance facilities have had to adapt to. Many continue to follow the same procedures and protocols put in place one year ago.
TravelCenters of America’s Hoekzema says their repair facilities frequently disinfect common touch points using best-in-class chemicals. “We also continue to follow CDC recommendations including mask wearing, increased hand washing, and social distancing,” Hoekzema adds.
CDC guidelines stress proper handwashing and cleaning using either soap and water or gel/liquid hand sanitizers.
“Fleets can protect technicians with bulk hand sanitizer or hand washing stations positioned at doorways, in breakrooms, and in other high-traffic areas,” says Chris Iuzzolino, director of product operations at New Pig, a provider of industrial cleaning products, safety supplies, and PPE. “These stations should be checked frequently to ensure they are properly stocked. To help reinforce proper hand cleaning, place wall signs and floor stickers in strategic locations.”
Hand cleaning is only one element of functioning safely in the post-COVID world. Iuzzolino says surface cleaning is another vital protocol for technicians to continue following.
“EPA List-N sanitizers are an important key in helping defeat COVID and other pathogens,” Iuzzolino explains. “These sanitizers can be chosen based on the surface type and the method used to clean that surface. Pre-moistened wipes that contain the sanitizer are a great way to clean a surface because they are more efficient than liquid chemicals and wipes. That said, dry wipes in self-contained buckets or canisters allow the user to add the cleaning agent of choice, helping reduce waste by reusing and refilling the bucket or canister.”
Microfiber towels are ideal because they can be reused over and over simply by laundering them. “Some microfiber towels are even impregnated with silver fibers to help reduce pathogen growth on the towel during reuse,” Iuzzolino points out.
Repair facilities are also having to make sure vehicles are sanitized after being serviced. According to Iuzzolino, ultra-low volume disinfectant foggers are being used to quickly and effectively sanitize the entire inside of a vehicle. “They create a fog or mist of a sanitizing chemical that coats surfaces and are much more efficient than trying to wipe down all surfaces inside of a vehicle,” Iuzzolino says.
Working around high voltage
With hybrid and full-electric vehicles making their way to the marketplace, high-voltage battery packs and connectors are presenting additional safety risks for technicians.
According to Homer Hogg, director of technical service for TravelCenters of America, the most important thing to remember when working on a high-voltage system is to be certain that the system is de-energized. “Technicians must validate that the system is free of voltage before they start working on it,” Hogg emphasizes.
The proper PPE is also essential when working around high voltage. “PPE must meet the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 70E requirements for safe work practices,” Hogg points out. “Understanding and complying with these standards will help fleets keep their employees safe and in compliance with OSHA 1920 Subpart S and 1926 Subpart K.”
As Hogg points out, necessary pieces of PPE include a face shield with a hard hat, and arc flash protection for the face and eyes. Technicians also need a flash-protection coat that meets the required arc protection value. Lastly, technicians need electric safety gloves with over-glove protectors.
According to Ryder’s Olson, a technician needs specially insulated gloves that prevent the flow of electricity to the surface of the skin. He has had luck finding them at various electrical and industrial supply stores. “A good pair provides excellent shock protection,” Olson adds. “But it is up to the technician to not only wear them properly, but also keep them in good condition to avoid accidental exposure.”
Working with hazardous materials
When working with hazardous chemicals and other materials, TravelCenters of America’s Hoekzema says it’s important for fleets to provide training on how to comprehend a Safety Data Sheet (SDS). This will enable a technician to understand what protection is necessary for different types of chemicals.
“Each chemical has an SDS sheet that has been created by the manufacturer,” Hoekzema points out. “Section 8 of the SDS provides guidance on what PPE is appropriate during normal use of that chemical. Section 6, Accidental Release Measures, covers requirements in the event of an unexpected leak or spill.”
Due to the variety of chemicals found in repair shops, there will be varying PPE requirements to protect a technician’s hands, face, and arms from exposure.
“For liquid chemical protection, we utilize nitrile gloves for cleaning parts with aqueous solvents, as well as when handling grease, coolant, fuel, and motor oil,” Ryder’s Olson says. “The type we have found to work best are fabric-based gloves dipped in nitrile. That type of glove allows for some breathability, decent dexterity, and longer life than the throw-away, single-use type of glove.”
For flooded cell batteries, Olson says Ryder technicians opt for some additional protection. Gloves that protect both the hand and forearm are necessary. These gloves are kept next to a battery charging station along with a face shield and full apron.
Though not terribly common yet, LNG engines require cryogenic protection gloves due to the extremely low temperatures of this alternative fuel. “A technician also wants a full face shield if working on fuel storage tanks or fuel lines,” Olson adds.
One other “hazardous material” a heavy duty technician will often run into is a sharp-edged piece of metal. To protect against this, Olson says technicians should wear Level 5 cut-proof gloves when working around machined surfaces or other sharp edges found throughout a vehicle.
“This type of glove is especially helpful in tight quarters where it is difficult to maneuver, such as under the dash,” Olson relates. “We have found gloves like this that provide great protection but also excellent dexterity. That combination is very important for a technician who needs to do tasks where bare fingers are preferred, such as when working with small fasteners.”
Getting back to the various liquid hazards in a shop, the unfortunate truth is that technicians sometimes find themselves dealing with a spill or leak. New Pig’s Iuzzolino says pre-planning and training are keys to mitigation.
“Spill clean-up materials — including absorbent pads, socks, loose absorbents, and pre-packaged spill kits — should be selected based on the type of liquids a technician needs to absorb,” Iuzzolino says. “They should also be made easily accessible in the event of a spill.”
According to Iuzzolino, self-contained spill kits are ideal for accidental leaks and spills from drums, containers, or bulk storage tanks. Pre-packed spill kits are available in various sizes and configurations. They are sized to absorb spills from less than one gallon to several hundred gallons at one time.
“Keep in mind that the volume of spill clean-up materials kept on hand should be based on the volume of liquid you may need to respond to,” Iuzzolino says. “Consideration should also be taken as to where the kit will be stored. Once the location is determined, select the type of kit container that works best for your needs — a portable bag, wheeled container, or stationary drums or overpacks.”
Staying safe around lifts
When proper care is not exercised, vehicle lifts can lead to hazardous conditions in a fleet maintenance facility. Aside from using a proper lift with the proper ratings, it’s critical for technicians to understand how to work with and around the lift in a safe way.
“Each lift manufacturer provides a manual for the safe operation of the lift along with a schedule of safety checks that should be strictly adhered to,” says Matt Copot, vice president of maintenance at Transervice. “Within each manual are safety rules that we provide to each technician who will be using the lift.”
There is also a chapter on lift safety in Transervice’s Technician’s Safety Guide. Topics include:
- What to do before lifting a vehicle
- Inspecting the lift
- Driving onto the lift
- Operating the lift
- Notifying other personnel to stay clear of the lift
- Maintaining load stability
- Lowering the lift
Clear, thorough training aids like this can help usher technicians onto a path toward shop safety. Training sessions on lift operation should also be thorough.
“Any employee holding a training meeting should read from the manual and be sure to cover several important topics,” Copot says. Those topics are pre-start inspections, potential problems or malfunctions, workplace inspections, and operator warnings and instructions. “After reading the safety training material, the safety trainer can physically show technicians the operation, safety, and emergency controls on the lift,” Copot adds. “Once a technician has been trained, have them sign a training roster and maintain it in their training file.”
Pagesy says Penske approves all major tooling, including vehicle lifts, that its service locations purchase. When a new lift is approved and installed at a facility, the manufacturer typically comes in to provide training.
Pagesy says lift-related accidents are not commonplace throughout the Penske service network. He credits the outstanding equipment, training, and support from the lift manufacturers Penske partners with.
Hough agrees, adding, “Anytime we negotiate a lift purchase, we ask for extended inspections of a year or two. Then the manufacturer rep comes in and inspects the lift and certifies it. This also provides a great opportunity for technicians to ask questions.”
Asking questions should always be encouraged when establishing a shop safety culture. After all, asking questions is the foundation of learning. Then, answering those questions with thorough, ongoing training — supported by clear policies, procedures, and expectations — allows a fleet to establish safety accountability, which is the foundation of a sustained safety culture.
The audit is a key tool to know the overall status and provide the analysis, the assessment, the advice, the suggestions and the actions to take in order to cut costs and increase the efficiency and efficacy of the fleet. We propose the following fleet management audit.