Editor’s Note: This article is the first in a series focusing on risk management practices for the pest management industry. The articles are based on presentations from the 2015 PestSure Safety and Loss Prevention Conference in Las Vegas where PMPs gathered to hear the latest strategies for protecting their employees, customers and businesses from a variety of threats from driver safety to identity theft. In business for more than 30 years, PestSure is a nationwide association providing insurance and risk management services that is owned and operated by pest management professionals.

Did you know that the average driver makes more than 35,000 driving-related mistakes in his or her lifetime? Could you imagine making the same number of mistakes while servicing customers’ homes and businesses for rodents, termites and cockroaches? You might imagine it but it wouldn’t be for long because you would be out of business in a hurry.

Pest management companies send thousands of vehicles and drivers onto the roads every day, which is why driver safety is the biggest risk exposure for pest management companies.

“The pest management industry tends to have more driving risks since they frequently operate in residential neighborhoods where you have children playing and the level of distractions is much higher,” says Harry Willis of Eos SAFE Driver, a Tulsa-based consultant who works with PestSure’s pest management clients on driver safety training. “When you are distracted the outcome all comes down to luck.”

Willis pointed to tragic incidents involving a lawn care service provider when two children under the age of 12 were accidentally struck and killed in separate incidents by drivers working in residential neighborhoods. These may be extreme examples, but they paint a clear picture of the high risk technicians face every day.

How does a pest management company establish a strong safe driver program and culture that complement one another?

“You start by confirming what employees know and having them demonstrate those skills behind the wheel,” says Willis. “You can’t just inoculate employees to become better drivers. Good driving practices are developed when the training is dispensed on a regular basis and is encouraged by management.”

Good driver safety training revolves around providing employees with the knowledge and having them apply it in the real world. Willis says adding safe driving reminders to regular sales or technician training meetings is a good first step.

“Once an employee is trained on a topic, whether it is driver safety or chemical safety, the lessons of the original training will be triggered with regular reinforcement and follow up,” says Willis. What basics elements need to be included in an effective driver safety training program? Willis recommends the following:

    Backing procedures
  • Intersection procedures
  • Rollover prevention
  • Head-on collision avoidance
  • Striking fixed object avoidance
  • Distraction elimination

Sharing stories from the newspaper and local media of accidents that have taken place in your community add to the education process. Reviewing the circumstances of the incidents and discussing how the outcome could have been changed or avoided altogether is time well spent.

“It puts into context the need for employees to become more aware drivers and highlights intersections and streets in your service area where risks might be higher,” adds Willis.

One of the most common mistakes commercial drivers make is failing to identify the risks around them. With so much “activity” taking place on and off the road it can be hard for drivers to keep track of everything and everyone sharing the streets with them.

“Another person’s mistake is just like your own, you can’t depend on the other guy to prevent an accident,” says Willis.

One of the biggest challenges pest management companies face when it comes to training is setting aside the time to actually complete the process. Willis says companies can find teachable moments for driver safety training as part of their ongoing training efforts without pinching valuable time from employee schedules.

Another threat to driver safety education is complacency. Employees drive themselves to and from work, and then drive all day so why do they need more driver education?

“Complacency may be the biggest challenge in driver safety education because it is too easy to take for granted that everyone in your company knows what to do,” says Willis. “Drivers survive on habits and companies need to constantly reinforce the safe driver message and provide the tools to do so.”

Willis says there are numerous ways to introduce both previously covered and new information to employees, including computer-based interactive training, train the trainer sessions, driver assessor training, poster programs and safe driver handbooks.

According to Linda Midyett, area vice president for PestSure, a trend that is helping pest management professionals achieve improved driver safety performance is the introduction of GPS-based tools that track vehicle movement and performance in the field.

“The data that is mined from the various GPS technology is quite helpful to owners and managers in several ways,” says Midyett. “Not only does it help with routing efficiency and production issues that can benefit the bottom line but it can provide useful data and teachable opportunities to improve individual employees’ driving habits.”

WHY SO IMPORTANT? The price for poor driver safety can be measured through a mountain of statistics — some of which are disturbing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 33,000 Americans die each year in motor vehicle accidents and 2.5 million suffer disabling injuries.

These sobering statistics reinforce the fact that the simplest of training — remembering to fasten seat belts — can literally be a life saver. Recent industry statistics showed that of the 13 percent of drivers who were involved in a crash that were not wearing seat belts, the fatality rate was 55 percent.

If your company is involved in an automobile event where there was property damage, serious injury or loss of life the legal system is going to ask if you did your due diligence and did everything in your power to protect the driving public through proven training.

Fewer incidents also mean lower insurance modifiers and lower rates for companies.

“The only way to keep insurance costs down is to eliminate the number of events,” says Willis. “Even small events like backing into a pole can lead to lingering costs that build up over time.”

Establishing and maintaining a good driver safety program as part of your company’s overall safety protocols can also make your company a more attractive place to work for prospective and current employees.

“A company that is committed to working to ensure a safe workplace on all fronts is going to draw like-minded employees and that is a benefit for everyone,” adds Willis.

Midyett echoes Willis’ comments saying a loss event can drain a company’s financial resources and put undue pressure and stress on employees.

“Taking the right steps to protect employees, customers and the general public with safe driving education is the responsibility of the company,” says Midyett. “The factors that cause losses will stay constant but continuous reinforcement of the basics will go a long way to achieving better driving practices.”