By Christopher W. Ferrone
Every church has someone or a group in charge of safety. While the safety department has the responsibility of handling compliance, training and testing as necessary, the begging question is if these activities actually ensure authentic, practical and tangible safety measures. Safety that works involves building a collection of small viable actions in a process that is ongoing and always changing. Each action by itself may not appear safety related, but as one part of the total collection, each step such as vehicle inspections for buses and vans, preventative maintenance, compliance, driver control measures, training and common sense all add up to what I call true safety.
While some may view reliability as being sure the vehicle is reliable for the day, utility is very low on my list of items to worry about directly. Certainly reliability is important. An unreliable vehicle always compromises safety when it fails in some way. Reliability is a safety function in my system.
Unusual noises coming from the vehicle usually indicate a problem. A sense of smell also serves as a useful tool. Walking by a bus that has the odor of gear oil usually indicates a hub seal is leaking. Hearing an odd noise or detecting an odor and not checking it out represent poor safety behavior. Caring is the most basic element of true safety. Don’t be a robot or merely a box checker. Take safety practices to a level of care where everyone knows to stop and look for problems at their least provocation.
Once the buses move to the ready line for drivers to pick up, I speak with each one individually to check their fitness for the day. I want drivers to be awake and alert. We discuss the weather and the effect it will have on driving that day and have a solid plan to deal with the conditions.
A safe team gives its drivers the option and even encourages them to stop driving as the situation may require.
Review the destination or event for the group and assess the passengers. Are they children, adults or teens? In the event of time-sensitive events with a starting time, the drivers receive instructions to not let the passengers influence their operation of the bus, or where to position the bus for unloading and parking. Passengers often try to control the driver for their personal benefit. The driver is in control and must be the only person making the decisions.
Instruct the driver to not allow a person at the venue provide assistance or direction with backing up or close quarter maneuvering of the bus.
Assume ground personnel are not qualified to assist the driver with these tasks. The driver has command of the bus and should not take any type of direction from anyone else. If the situation requires assistance, the driver should get out of the vehicle and have a look for himself.
We recently had a driver back into a tree causing damage to the bus. When he returned to the garage I interviewed him to discuss what had happened. In classic fashion I determined three minutes of missing detail. Once I made it clear that this was a problem for me, he admitted he allowed someone to back him up around a car that was in the way. I informed him that this accident was chargeable and preventable due to the fact that he let someone control him as opposed to being the person in full control of the bus.
Do not let the current level of safety lull your church into a false sense of security. This is not to suggest those responsible for safety are not doing their job, but checking boxes and filing paperwork is hardly what we are talking about here. True safety is a process of constant attention, evaluation and re-evaluation.
Christopher W. Ferrone is president of Americoach Systems Inc., Glenview, IL, an engineering firm specializing in transportation, technology, analysis and safety.