Coaching and tech are simple measures that lead to big culture improvements. It is important to take care of employees first, supporting them and providing the right training to keep them safe. When we do that, we increase workplace satisfaction and employee retention, and the results naturally trickle down to contented customers.
By Jeff Martin
Roadways are not getting any safer for either waste haulers or the general public. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently reported a 16-year-high in traffic fatalities, and a 10.5 percent increase over 2020—the largest fatality annual increase ever recorded1 (also notable because 2020 itself experienced an increase in fatalities, despite the pandemic lockdown2). Anecdotally, we have heard from many drivers that fellow motorists’ behaviors are not improving, but rather getting worse.
It is not that the roads or the commercial drivers themselves are unsafe—in large part, the uptick in risk appears to stem from passenger vehicle drivers who are increasingly distracted, aggressive, or impaired. What’s more, these days it is becoming more common to encounter drivers that have a combination of two or more of these negative traits, and these pose the greatest hazards. Waste haulers are trained to handle these drivers with defensive driving tactics, yielding the right of way even if it is technically their turn, and leaving plenty of space between themselves and other vehicles.
However, there is a new hazard that waste haulers must also contend with: e-bikes. These bikes can zip up to 28 mph, darting in and out of traffic and catching many drivers by surprise. The good news is that there is a way to deal with new risks like e-bikes. In my years in the business, I have found that fleets that have built their operations around safety tend to respond faster and more effectively to emerging risks—saving not just claims costs, but also livelihoods.
Below are some best practices that I have collected over the years—both from the companies I have worked for as well as dozens of safety leaders at other organizations whom I have been fortunate enough to meet.
E-Bikes Present New Challenges
E-bikes are electric-assisted bicycles with a motor below 750 watts attached to give the user added power. It is an economical and environmentally friendly way to get around, since it requires no gas and helps mitigate traffic. There are more e-bikes on the road than ever before, and the number is expected to grow. The e-bike market was valued at USD 27.22 billion in 2021, and is projected to reach USD 54.48 billion by 2027, registering a
Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.26 percent between 2022-2027.3 In addition, in July 2022, Congress introduced the Electric Bicycle Bill Incentive Kickstart for the Environment Act4, which would give consumers a rebate of 30 percent of the bike’s cost. While that has not passed as of this writing, it stands to reason that many more people will be purchasing e-bikes as a result.
Despite this quick rise, most of the roadways we have in the U.S. simply do not account for e-bikes. No motorcycle license—or even a driver’s license— is required to operate an e-bike, and they may go as fast as 28 mph. This means that less experienced drivers may be using e-bikes and sharing the roads with commercial and passenger vehicles.
Therefore, e-bike users have a tendency to operate less predictably—or also fall into one of the aggressive, impaired, or distracted categories. They have been seen not only using the bike lane, but the sidewalk and the middle of the road, at varying speeds.
When a driver sees someone on an e-bike, they may expect it to act like a regular bicycle and not accelerate to 25 mph. The e-bike’s low profile makes it even harder to see from high vehicles, especially in blind spots. For waste haulers operating large trucks, e-bikes and scooters can make it difficult to execute a right-hand turn, as the drivers may not easily see them overtaking vehicles on the right side.
In addition to e-bikes and scooters, new kinds of motorized vehicles are cropping up all the time, and drivers must continually be ready. For example, motorized skateboards operated with a cell phone
remote are also occupying city streets—meaning that their operators may be looking down at their phone instead of for potential hazards.
It is therefore vitally important for us to communicate with our drivers, discover what is happening on the ground level, and help them manage safety challenges. The best way to mitigate risk for these road hazards is a two-pronged approach: excellent coaching combined with advanced safety technology.
Group Coaching for Improved Safety
Though it can be tempting to rely solely on cutting-edge technology to monitor and correct drivers, managers must also use an old school, low-tech approach with their drivers—good communication through coaching. Coaching before any risky events even have the chance to occur is a proven measure to increasing safety. When managers take the time to have a daily coaching session with strong peer engagement, employees are more engaged and risk-aware. In the morning before the team heads out, gather your drivers together. Choose one specific topic per day and ask an open-ended question, such as: “What are the problems you’ve noticed with e-bikes lately?” or, “What are some hazards you’ve been running across more often?” and allow the drivers to answer freely.
Next, ask follow-up questions that focus on both human emotions and concrete actions; for example, whether they are feeling extra anxious about the hazard, and what tactics they perform to avoid accidents. While some may find it uncomfortable, talking about emotions promotes psychological comfort and therefore encourages open communication and trust. Role playing practice may also be used effectively to reinforce safety concepts. This is in contrast to the standard manager-led meetings of the past, which tended to be more lecture-based, ignored emotion, and focused on problems that already occurred instead of trying to prevent them.
Optimize Results with a Combination of Coaching and Tech
Technology is also invaluable when it comes to safety. It has allowed coaching to take place in the field with the driver and identify behaviors we were never able to see before. Machine vision and artificial intelligence can:
• Detect driver inattentiveness and distractions such as eating or cell phone usage, and gives drivers real-time light and audio alerts*, prompting self-correction
• Allows drivers to watch their own videos and review their performance metrics
• Sends push notifications to managers to provide immediate intervention or coaching as necessary
• Captures exterior views with a configurable dash cam
• Does not require recording of the driver
No matter the type of event and whether it occurs inside or outside the vehicle, it can be recorded and sent to the cloud for review. Managers can look at the events that night or the next day, then go over the events with their drivers. Asking them the same types of open-ended questions as they did in the group coaching allows for additional self-reflection, such as, “Is there anything you could have done differently?” For coaching to be maximally effective, it should take place as soon as possible, preferably within 24 to 48 hours after an event, when the occurrence is still fresh in the driver’s mind. Many drivers value the importance of coaching and will often contact their manager at their next-safest stop to advise of a forthcoming coachable event.
It is also important to review positive-outcome events where the driver did the right thing to avoid an accident and give them positive reinforcement for it. For example, if a device captures the driver avoiding an e-bike, review the footage and praise them, and then allow that driver to share what happened with their driver peers so the others can learn from it as well.
Coaching and tech are simple measures that lead to big culture improvements. Of course, the goal of any customer-oriented company is to take care of their customers. However, to do this, it is important to take care of employees first, supporting them and providing the right training to keep them safe. When we do that, we increase workplace satisfaction and employee retention, and the results naturally trickle down to contented customers. | WA
Jeff Martin joined the Lytx team in August 2022 as an executive specializing in the transportation, distribution, and field services sectors. Jeff has decades of operational experience in architecting, directing, and continuously improving safety programs. He started at Waste Management (WM) in 1996 and held several positions, including Vice President of WM Safety Services LLC. Jeff is the former Safety Chairman of the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) Safety Committee and is currently serving as Chairman Emeritus. He is also an active member of various associations that serve the commercial transportation and service sectors. For more information, visit www.lytx.com.
*Lytx MV+AI technology is a driver aid only. Drivers should never wait for a warning before taking measures to avoid an accident. Lytx MV+AI distraction detection and alerting technology is designed to respect driver privacy because it does not collect, store, or use any biometric identifiers or biometric information (i.e., scans of facial geometry) to detect distracted driving behaviors. See www.lytx.com/driver-information.