Compliance consists of following the letter and spirit of the laws as set forth by the FMCSA. As most people know drug testing, driver logs, crashes, maintenance and driver files are all areas involved in compliance. CSA numbers, inspections and audits are the tools used by the FMCSA to identify offenders and ensure compliance in those regulatory areas.
While compliance is very important, I would argue that they are in essence “table stakes” in the game of trucking risk. “Table stakes” are the minimums required to play in the game but nothing more. The areas monitored by CSA can definitely point to warning signs of risk but they don’t necessarily do all that is necessary to prevent accidents and injuries. For example, just because a driver is legal on hours of service doesn’t mean that he is not driving tired, distracted, or impaired. An expertise in compliance doesn’t necessarily equate to an expertise in safety.
In my opinion, safety is the art of actively preventing crashes and injuries through a mix of risk identification and prevention. A true safety department has an established plan to reduce and eliminate unsafe acts and conditions from the workplace. A strong safety program is one of the key components of the best-in class-truckers who consistently out-perform the industry in loss dollars paid.
Believe it or not, safety at these best-in-class truckers is not a top priority. These companies understand that priorities can change throughout the day, week or year. Safety for yourself and others is not something that should ever be compromised based on circumstance. Instead, these leading companies have safety as a core value which is something very different than most. A core value will not change regardless of the circumstances of the day or situation. The culture of the organization which holds this value allows employees to consistently make safe decisions and know they will be celebrated for it.
So - in the ever demanding day to day world of trucking, should a CEO focus on safety or compliance? I would suggest that it is necessary to be top notch at both. Safety and compliance can work together to create a culture of strong values. For example, CSA metrics can be utilized at part of an analysis as a leading indicators of risk. The FMCSA has stated that of the CSA numbers the crash indicator, unsafe driving, and hours of service compliance show the strongest crash risk. In the end, being best-in-class in both safety and compliance will probably give your company a strong leg up on being best in class for profit.