Ted Finlayson-Schueler is a veteran school bus safety advocate and president of Safety Rules! He is also a member of SBF’s editorial advisory board. For more info, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.safetyrules.net.
Training budgets are being cut with every other budget, and you wonder, “How will I keep my staff thinking safety?” Safety is our bottom line as an industry, and we know that it doesn’t just happen.
I believe that even when you can’t afford to pay an hour’s wage for each employee to sit in a monthly safety meeting (100 x $15/hour = $1,500!), you can continue to support a safety culture by looking for cracks and crevices in the day where you can insert that safety mantra.
Radio: Write up a list of morning and afternoon safety messages that your dispatcher can read on a rotating basis. An enthusiastic and positive morning safety message helps to set the tone for the day.
Bulletin board: Post safety banners and posters in the staff room and offices of your department. Post newspaper articles about school buses, both positive and negative. Be sure the environment speaks safety everywhere you turn.
Reading materials: Leave copies of industry magazines and newsletters in the staff room. Print and leave out copies of National Transportation Safety Board reports, the Kansas State Department of Education’s National School Bus Loading and Unloading Survey, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s driver training courses and courses from your own and other states.
Boast about the accomplishments of the staff and of the schools you transport. If you receive information about a staff member who did something great, post it on the bulletin board and praise him or her publicly.
If a school team wins a championship, say it’s because your bus safely drove them there. Post accident-free miles or days since an accident. Post vehicle inspection pass rates.
Use graphs to demonstrate improvement. Make it clear that safety is a priority in your organizational culture.
Even if you can’t pay hourly wages for training, sometimes free food or a drawing for a prize will buy you just as much attention. Schedule short (one topic in 15-20 minutes) presentations during a point in the week or month when staff is hanging around waiting for something like paychecks or afternoon runs.
Not everyone will attend for free food or door prizes, but if the presentation is hard-hitting and interesting and the cookies are good, you will develop a following.
Nothing focuses performance like a contest. Hide Post-its on buses for a pre-trip contest drawing, or have drivers find defects on a specially prepared bus. See who can open all the emergency exits on their bus the fastest while blindfolded. Hide dummies on a smoke-filled bus and see who can find them all in two minutes or less. Do a scavenger hunt with a safety theme or crossword puzzles that require research into safety topics.
Be a role model
Even if budget woes are wearing you down, safety before schedule must still be the priority. Buses with safety defects must still not go out on the road.
If staff shortages put you behind the wheel of a bus, follow safety procedures to a “T.” Show that you are using every avenue to maintain a strong safety culture and remain its champion.
More with less doesn’t have to be a downer. Use it as a time to pull together, to maintain standards and to overcome the odds. It may be your finest hour.