One Month to a Safer, More Efficient Bus Garage

Claire Atkinson
Posted on August 1, 2008

Safety and efficiency are a priority for any school bus operation, but maintaining the highest possible standards in the garage every day can be a difficult task. With some focused planning, however, managers can make strategic improvements to bring safety to the forefront on a regular basis.

By setting aside a month dedicated to garage safety, focusing on one aspect each week, school bus operations can take garage safety to the next level.

Week 1: Form a safety committee
The key to improving garage safety is making time to address issues as they arise, as well as continual safety practices. To help make safety a regular topic of discussion, form a safety committee that meets monthly.

At the School District of Manatee County in Bradenton, Fla., Associate Director of Vehicle Maintenance Don Ross says his shop’s committee is made up of office staff, mechanics, the shop manager and a safety chair. Membership on the committee rotates, but the chair position is permanent.

The committee conducts a monthly shop inspection and then holds a review meeting to go over items of concern. During the inspection, the committee covers all departments in the garage using a detailed checklist, which includes fire safety, trip hazards and personal protective equipment (PPE). “If the committee finds an item that can be taken care of during inspection, corrective measures are noted. If not, then a safety work order is generated and remains open until repaired or removed,” he explains.

Using a checklist also allows staff to document the last time equipment was checked or tested, according to Michael Bower, assistant fleet maintenance manager for Cleveland Metropolitan School District.

However, inspections and safety meetings are handled in different ways at different operations. Instead of implementing a safety committee, Kevin Boyd, maintenance manager at Michael’s Transportation Service in Vallejo, Calif., serves as the company’s designated safety and compliance officer. In that role, he coordinates training and is in charge of rating each employee daily on their safety practices.

At Bay District Schools in Panama City, Fla., General Foreman Pete Smith holds a weekly shop meeting with the mechanics to discuss safety conditions in the garage.

Week 2: Prioritize needed upgrades
In addition to keeping a close watch on the safety needs of the garage, the safety committee or officer can help administrators identify equipment that is outdated.

You may not be able to give your garage a complete makeover within a month’s time, but you can take a comprehensive look at the physical layout of the garage and the equipment in it and make a prioritized list of what needs to be repaired or replaced in order to optimize safety and efficiency.

For Steve Andreorio, director for fleet operations at Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs, Colo., installing new lighting throughout the bus bays has helped to improve safety.

Maintenance Fleet Supervisor Bill Svoboda at Red Lion Bus Co./EDW in Red Lion, Pa., found a solution to optimize interior space in his garage. To accommodate paint touch-up jobs needed during the winter, the company turned a partially- walled off wash bay in the shop into a completely enclosed paint booth, including explosion-proof lights and fans.

According to Rahway Bus Co. President Timothy Wallace, part of improving safety at the Colonia, N.J.-based shop comes from investing in newer, better quality tools. Newer tools that function properly reduce the risk of injury among mechanics, and new equipment technologies may help them get the job done faster as well.

Next, identify any “hot spots” in your garage where accidents are likely to occur. Many maintenance administrators report oil or fluid spills as a frequent danger in the garage. Cleaning up spills as soon as they happen is one of the top rules in the garage at Shasta Union High School District in Redding, Calif., says Tom Carroll, director of transportation.

Boyd targets the welding area, work benches, areas around vehicles and the tire repair area as his hot spots and gives them special attention during training.

Bower recommends posting signs throughout the shop warning techs of the most common dangers so that they are constantly kept in mind. He has posted signs reminding staff that fluid containers must be marked and shields must be used on grinders.

By the end of Week Two, you should have a written prioritized list of items to upgrade in the garage. Add to it as needed throughout the year.

Week 3: Rev up your training program
During Week Three, look to both in-house and outside resources to enhance staff training. Insurance providers can usually assist with safety training as part of the coverage offered to pupil transportation operations.

Wallace has invited safety representatives from his company’s insurance provider to give seminars for shop staff.

Boyd says he uses materials provided by a safety consulting firm to conduct training on tire safety and environmental regulations, among other topics. “We do it every six months unless new information comes out [before then],” he says.

Many operations also incorporate training into regular shop meetings. “We have a monthly ‘tool box shop talk’ presented by our director,” Ross says. Topics for discussion are determined by recent shop activities or safety issues, providing timely, relevant information for garage staff. Ross also maintains a book of maintenance topics, including photos and detailed descriptions of the causes of breakdowns and repair procedures. “This book covers all topics of interest from equipment repairs to the inspection process,” he explains. “Every employee must read and sign off monthly on new topics.”

Maintenance supervisors recommend putting safety topics in writing, not only to emphasize their importance, but also for mechanics to keep on hand as a reference. Andreorio distributes comprehensive maintenance guidance materials to all drivers at the beginning of each school year.

Week 4: Spread the word
In Week Four, make plans to educate staff on your revitalized safety program. Maintenance administrators suggest building safety into training for new employees from Day One in order to emphasize its importance.

“Make it a priority from the first day you bring in a new employee, so it’s part of the culture,” Carroll recommends.

“Everyone shares the responsibility for safety in the shop,” Andreorio says. If all employees understand this message, they will be more likely to follow through with the everyday “housekeeping” duties that keep work areas safe and orderly.

But how to motivate mechanics to keep up with these duties? “I use a point system that goes along with bonuses at year end,” Boyd explains. He rates shop staff daily on whether they have completed paperwork, cleaning duties and proper equipment storage from the previous work day. The accumulated points for safety and cleanliness then help Boyd determine each employee’s bonus at the end of the year.

Svoboda rewards techs with a quarterly safety bonus of $50 for every period ending without accidents. In addition, employees are appraised at each interval, and safety and neatness make up about 11 percent of the rating. “Any time I’m out in the shop, I’m constantly monitoring safety,” he says. “If a mechanic is not following proper procedure, I tell him about it immediately and I make note of it so I can include it in his performance appraisal.”

Smith agrees with monitoring safety conditions on a daily basis. “Never take for granted that all of your office personnel and mechanics will do the correct thing daily to promote safety,” he cautions. “One should spot check safety conditions all through the day.”

Lastly, maintenance administrators explain that high safety standards come from good leadership. “Safety has to come from the top down as a way of life,” Carroll says. “Lead by example and lend a hand when necessary.”


Comments ( 1 )
  • William Whittaker

     | about 6 years ago

    I work for a large school district in Oregon. All the mechanics in our shop try and help our inexperienced parts guy to save money. One example lately, one of our Blue Bird buses with a Cummins engine needed a cylinder head, turbo and its diesel particulate filter cleaned out. Instead of buying everything from the dealer (our normal routine) we bought a recon head from diesel Cast West for $600 cheaper. We purchased a complete Turbo from Oregon Fuel Injection for 490.00 less than Cummins. We saved another 400 dollars by using a smaller company ( do a stage 2 thermal clean and a D.O.C. clean. When our districts funding is getting cut by 2 plus million a year by the state of Oregon, we are glad to save the school district 1,500.00 just on one bus.

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