School transportation plays a critical role in a safe and healthy back-to-school season. And with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, safety’s role in student transportation continues to expand and evolve to meet new challenges. 

[|CREDIT|]Our safety expert, Darryl Hill, is Senior Vice President of Safety for First Student. With over 30 years of experience in the safety field overall, Hill is focused on First Student creating a safer and healthier workplace environment.

In addition to Hill’s professional accomplishments, he has held leadership positions within the safety industry, including serving as President and member of the Board of Directors of the American Society of Safety Professionals, the country’s oldest professional safety organization. 

Hill is also a member of the Student Transportation Aligned for Return to School, or STARTS, Task Force. The STARTS Task Force is a collaboration among the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation (NASDPTS), National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), and the National School Transportation Association (NSTA) to research, review, and report on matters relating to COVID-19 and student transportation.

Hill helps us understand more about how First Student is rising to meet new demands for safety during the coronavirus and introduces Start SafeTM, a new program focused on implementing and maintaining a safe and healthy return to school.

Q: How would you describe First Student’s approach to safety?

A: First Student’s approach to safety is collaborative and focused on making informed decisions based on data analysis and leading safety strategies. First Student has two important employee engagement teams, the Operations Advisory Team and the Safety Engagement Committee, that provide input into the overall safety strategy and key safety initiatives.

Additionally, safety is well represented on our internal Return to Work Committee. All of this informs our Start Safe program that will ensure First Student deploys the healthiest and safest work environment for its employees and passengers. 

Q: How do you build and maintain a safety culture?

A: Our culture starts with our people. First Student builds and maintains its safety culture by instituting robust talent management and development. The company employs safety professionals with a vast amount of school bus transportation experience, many of whom are considered leaders in the safety profession. First Student continues to seek and hire key safety talent to continue to build its safety culture. We also have a comprehensive professional development program for our safety team. 

The partnership between operations and safety is key to improve safety performance and culture. In addition to the employee engagement teams, the safety team meets regularly with operations leaders to review safety performance and identify strategies and initiatives to advance its safety culture, including driver training. 

Q: We are in the middle of one of the most challenging back to school seasons any of us have ever seen; what is First Student doing as more schools start remotely, to prepare for in-person education? 

A: Our Start Safe program  encompasses all of our efforts around our back-to-school plans for this fall. 

The first step was to organize the Start Safe committee to evaluate our operations and identify any/all opportunities for exposure to COVID-19. This group was comprised of senior leaders across all organizational functions (e.g. safety, engineering, operations, HR, legal, communications). They lent their unique perspectives and experience to deriving a suite of policies and best practices to ensure our passengers' and employees' safety. 

Start Safe’s core elements are aligned with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and address:
•    Maintenance of social/physical distancing 
•    Frequent and thorough handwashing
•    PPE and Face coverings
•    Disinfected and protected school buses

Q: How is the Start Safe program a natural extension of First Student’s safety culture?

A: Start Safe aligns with our core values of being dedicated to safety, accountable for performance, setting the highest standards, being supportive of each other, and committed to our customers. 

Comprehensive in scope and developed by our senior subject matter experts, Start Safe is emblematic of our overall approach to safety at First Student. Because of this, the program translates seamlessly into our safety culture and preparations for the school year. 

Q: How are we training our drivers on new safety protocols during COVID-19?

A: Our foundational protocols are being clearly communicated to all front-line workers as part of their annual “kick-off” training which is held at all locations. 

Additionally, we have been communicating through our regional safety and operational leaders as well as our driver-trainers to ensure the use of face covering, physical distancing and cleaning of high touch areas. To communicate all of this safely, we have been conducting meetings and training remotely, leveraging technology to reduce the number of employees who must gather to attend in-person classroom training.   

Q: What are you hearing in the safety landscape right now?

A: Naturally, in light of the once-in-a-hundred-year public emergency we’re are contending with, our focus has been on safeguards to protect against COVID-19.  

Even if First Student does not provide your district’s transportation, you can leverage our industry-leading best practices. The Start Safe team has created resources for districts and families to help them stay ahead of the pandemic as schools begin to assess reopening. Visit the Start Safe page to access resources like:

•    Bus Disinfection Best-Practices
•    Tip sheets and posters 
•    Guided visualization to prepare students
•    Safety Dog video for students
•    Safety Dog coloring pages

If your district needs additional help preparing for a safe and healthy return to school, contact us for safety consulting services, fill out our contact form.