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Coffee with a Cop: Traffic Violations

Coffee with a Cop – Traffic Violations

Written by Jim Skiera

Do you know what specific traffic violations are more likely to get your employee(s) pulled over?

The initial thought for this article was to talk to an officer about reasons drivers are stopped while driving vehicles commonly used by tree care companies (chip truck, bucket truck, dump trucks with trailers, etc.). We also wanted to find out what violations cause officers to tag vehicles out of service. Out of service violations become very costly for the business when you add up fines, repair bills, court and legal fees, and downtime that leads to lost revenue. 

To gain insight I spoke with six different officers from multiple police and sheriff departments in the Denver metro area. I started each interview with the same question: 

Of the commercial vehicles that you’ve pulled over in the last month/quarter/year, what suspected violation caused the pull over? 

The consistent answer from each of the patrol officers was they don’t treat commercial vehicles and drivers any differently than passenger vehicles. The officers I spoke with stated they primarily look for drivers of any vehicle committing the moving violations that regularly cause serious accidents and injuries. 

The top five infractions that are most likely to get a patrol officer’s attention and get a driver pulled over are:

  • Speeding: by far the top violation that gets drivers pulled over is speeding. More than 40% of all traffic stops are related to speeding. It is also the number one reason for serious accidents. Statistics show for every 100 speeding tickets issued there are 14 fewer auto crashes and five fewer auto accident-related injuries.  
  • Visible Equipment Violations: Broken or inoperable lights, broken or missing mirrors and other inoperable safety equipment required for drivers to communicate with or see other drivers on the road.
  • Cell Phone Use While Driving; Distracted driving is unsafe driving.
  • Following Too Closely or Improper Lane Changes: These two violations cause accidents by not allowing for proper braking distance and or response time of other drivers to safely avoid collisions.
  • Hazardous or Erratic Driving: Failure to stop, swerving in and out of lanes, drifting over the centerline, etc. are signals that a driver may be impaired, possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, falling asleep at the wheel, or texting while driving.  

 

The first officers I spoke to were Patrol officers of which traffic stops are one of many responsibilities of theirs. When they do make a stop, the time spent with each driver is limited and they are not trained to do commercial vehicle inspections. They have limited experience with tagging vehicles out of service. Following one of my interviews, it was recommended I speak to an officer that performs roadside commercial vehicle inspections if I wanted information on why vehicles are tagged out of service.

I eventually was introduced to Deputy Chad Davey of the Douglas County Sherriff’s Office. Deputy Davey is responsible for Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspections in Douglas County. He sets up mobile inspection sites around the county, on county roads and highways and all commercial vehicles are required to stop to be inspected before they can proceed. 

Officer Davey follows an inspection protocol that is used for all inspections. The first part of the inspection is about the driver. He checks for current and proper license, vehicle registration, insurance, drug or alcohol use and driving logs. The second part is a complete vehicle equipment inspection.

 

Question: What is the most common infraction you see with tree care related commercial vehicles during roadside inspections?

Answer: Deputy Davey said he could not specifically say there was a “most common” issue with tree service trucks. He said inspections are comprehensive and he has inches of paperwork of violations. Check the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) website of North American Level 1 Inspection procedures. 

He did give a few examples of common violations he finds with tree and landscape vehicles pulling trailers. The first is nonfunctioning electric emergency trailer brakes. Two things are common, one the battery for the brakes is not working, or the brakes themselves do not engage when tested. He said it’s common for drivers to just check to make sure everything is hooked up, but they don’t check to see if the emergency braking system works. Deputy Davey said probably half the drivers he meets during inspections don’t know they need to test the trailer brakes.

Another common violation is breakaway chains that are damaged from being dragged or are not rated to accommodate the weight of the trailer. He said chains on trailers get damaged. If an inspector sees the chain is worn more than 1/5 its diameter it’s a problem. He also said when chains are replaced, they need to be replaced with chains of the same rating, and often are not.

 

Question: What can a driver do to avoid being pulled over and having their vehicle tagged Out of Service during an inspection?

Answer: Roadside Commercial Vehicle Inspections are mandatory so you can’t avoid being pulled over. What you can do is limit your chance of being tagged out of service by performing daily inspections, completing inspection reports, maintaining your driver’s license and certificates and other required documentation, and keeping vehicles in safe working order. Have required documentation stored somewhere it is easily available when asked for by the inspector. 

Another recommendation for business owners is to include training about what is included in roadside inspections, so drivers understand what the inspectors are reviewing during an inspection. This should be specific to the vehicles employees are using and the state, federal and local restrictions for those vehicles.

Managing the risks for your business is an ongoing task. One area of significant risk is with your fleet and the drivers using the vehicles in that fleet. Preventing incidents that cause damage, injuries, and costly downtime requires commitment by all involved. It starts with the owner providing well maintained and properly operating equipment then complimented with qualified and licensed drivers trained to use and maintain the equipment efficiently, effectively, and safely.

If you have specific questions about roadside inspections, contact your local law enforcement department. They can assist with inspection checklists and regional laws and regulations. If you need help with driver safety and/or fleet management, contact ArboRisk to learn more about their Thrive Risk Management Safety Package!

Tom Dunn

5 Reasons to Run Your Own Driving Records

5 Reasons to Run Your Own Driving Records

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

You hire a new employee and let your insurance company know that they’ll be driving for you. A week or two later, you get a call from your insurance agent saying the new employee cannot be a driver because their driving record is terrible. Now you have a new employee who you don’t know what to do with because driving your company trucks is a requirement of the position that you hired them for. Sound familiar?

Of course it does. Every tree service has had issues with drivers and their insurability. However, the insurance issues are only a small part of the equation when it comes to managing your drivers. 

At ArboRisk, we recommend that all tree care companies pull driving record reports on all drivers, before they are hired and at least once per year while they are still employed with the company. 

When a tree service takes driver management into their own hands they begin to take back some control of the risk that their company faces every day when their employees are out on the road driving their company vehicles. 

In this article, I’ll give you five reasons to run your own driving records internally as part of your driver management. Pssst…a little hint, if number 1 isn’t enough for you, number 5 should be the deciding factor for instituting a driving record review process at your tree care company.  

 

  1. Less Accidents – Obviously, no tree service wants to have their employees and vehicles involved in car accidents, so the first step in avoiding them is to ensure the drivers operating your vehicles have a good driving history. I know you cannot entirely predict the future solely on looking at information from the past, but you can get a strong indication of how the employee may drive for you by reviewing their past driving history. If the driver has a history of accidents and/or other moving violations, the chances that they will get into an accident with your vehicle are greater than that with employees who have a clean driving record. 
  2. Hiring Decision – By running the driving record yourself, you will immediately receive the information needed to make the proper hiring decision and avoid an awkward and potentially dangerous situation if you find out the new employee is a terrible driver after they have already been behind the wheel of one of your vehicles. Eliminate this risk by knowing about their driving record before you hire them. 
  3. Expectations for Employees – Instituting a driving record process within your company, provides clear expectations for potential and current employees on their driving record. If their position requires them to be eligible to drive, wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier if you just told them up front what those requirements will be? Many times when the insurance company tells you that a driver isn’t eligible to drive, it is for a long time employee. This just exacerbates the problem as it is probably someone who’s experience would be sorely missed on the crew if they cannot drive for the company. Establishing the expectations of what is accepted and what is detrimental to their employment, allows everyone to understand their responsibility in taking care of their own driving record. 
  4. Lower Auto Insurance Rates – We all know that insurance companies don’t want to see their insured tree care companies have vehicular accidents. Therefore, they will reward companies who have the best accident history and written policies and procedures with the lowest rate that they can. To do this, though, they need proof of what the tree service is doing to prevent the accidents from happening and the way you handle driving records within your company is the largest negotiation point you have. Showing the insurance company your driving record guidelines and the process you use along with the frequency of when you check the driving records will help tremendously when trying to lower the cost of your Business Auto Insurance. For other ideas on how to lower your auto insurance cost check out this article. 
  5. Duty of the Employer – I may have listed four other reasons before this, however, this is really the only reason you need to start pulling your company’s driving records. Have you ever heard of the phrase “negligent entrustment”? This is the basis that plaintiff attorneys use when suing a business for damages from a bad auto accident. The principle is simple, when a business allows someone to drive their vehicle they are entrusting them to operate it safely. If that driver ends up injuring or worse, killing another person, the business is held responsible for the actions of the driver. If the business did not review the driver’s driving record, they have negligently allowed them to operate the vehicle. Obviously, once the plaintiff attorney sees that the business did not take reasonable steps to prevent the accident, like knowing what the driver’s driving record is, they go after large settlements. It is the duty of the employer to have a process in place to monitor drivers and their records. Also, due to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, your insurance agency/company can only order a driving record for underwriting purposes, meaning to assess the likelihood of an accident, not for employment reasons. So asking your insurance agent/company for driving records does not fulfill your duty as the employer. 

 

Ultimately, by running your own driving records, you are taking control of the risk that your drivers and vehicles bring to your company and lessening the headaches that come with problem drivers. Check out this article to learn how to set up a Driver Risk Management procedure within your company. 

Lastly, if you are looking for one-on-one help in managing your drivers, sign up for our Thrive Safety Package today.

Tom Dunn

Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Employment Practices Liability Insurance

Written by Mick Kelly

One of the first concerns that a new business owner has is how to deal with the hiring, firing and discipline of employees as well as wondering what the consequences your employees’ actions may have for your business. 

Not only is the risk of being sued by an employee very real and on the rise, the risk of being sued because of the actions of an employee, outside of the scope of their work, is also very real. 

This is where Employee Practices Liability Insurance or EPLI comes in!

What is EPLI

EPLI helps protect businesses against claims and lawsuits arising from improper or unfair acts brought by employees. EPLI includes coverage for the cost of defending a case in court and the damages from a judgement or settlement that may arise from a lawsuit. Legal costs are typically covered in the event of a win or loss.

EPLI covers against claims from: 

  • full-time and part-time employees 
  • temporary and seasonal employees 
  • applicants for employment
  • independent contractors

Examples of lawsuits that can be brought against an employer include:

  • Unfair discipline
  • Wrongful termination
  • Unfair demotion or negligent evaluation
  • Breach of employment contract
  • Failure to employ or promote
  • Sexual harassment
  • Discrimination – age, race, sex, religion, etc
  • Libel, slander, defamation of character
  • Invasion of privacy
  • And more

Most small business owners think such claims will never come against them since the have the best employees or their employees just “aren’t like that” – but the claim may come from the actions of someone else within your organization or from a mistake from the employer. Even a “heat of the moment” dismissal may result in an ex-employee seeking damages for wrongful termination.

EPLI is typically a claims made policy – meaning you must have it at the time of the incident in order to have coverage.

How much does EPLI cost?

A rough rule of thumb is EPLI costs between $25 – $40 per employee but pricing does vary per carrier

EPLI Premiums, are typically based on the these factors:

  • Type Of Business 
  • Number of Employees
  • Coverage Limits
  • Deductible
  • Past EPLI claims history

Many carriers will offer EPLI as an add on to the business liability policy but in the incidences where they don’t, EPLI policies can be purchased as stand alone policies. 

 

How much coverage should you carry?

This question varies from business to business. Most small business’s don’t have the thousands of dollars that it would cost to defend an EPLI case and a way to offset that is to pay a monthly premium for the EPLI coverage. 

It should be noted that most EPLI policies have a deductible and that the cost of the monthly premium plus the deductible along with the likelihood of a claim should all be factored in before deciding to purchase the policy. 

A company with a well run HR department may feel more comfortable forgoing the coverage in the knowledge that all the correct steps are being taken in regards to discipline, termination, hiring, etc. however, even a highly skilled HR department doesn’t mean you’re immune from lawsuits.

What EPLI doesn’t cover

 EPLI exclusions include:

  • Criminality or violations of state/federal laws – EPLI will not cover you against a criminal act or if you are in violation of state or federal laws. It may cover you up until the point you proven guilty but not beyond that.
  • Punitive damages
  • Worker’s compensation claims
  • Contractual liability or breach of contract 

 

EPLI with Third Party coverage

This is an add on to EPLI coverage. While EPLI covers you against employee lawsuits, Third Party coverage covers you against the actions of your employees towards others such as customers or clients. These lawsuits are typically discrimination or sexual harassment in nature.

In a labor market where it’s become very difficult to hire and a lot of business’s are hiring “a body” to get by, this coverage can be helpful. While all businesses want to vet their employees to the highest standard and only hire people of the highest moral quality, it’s not always  possible to be certain of either and EPLI coverage with Third Party coverage can be a way of mitigating that risk.

That being said, Third Party EPLI claims for smaller businesses are far more common in the food and accommodation and retail services than they are in contractor fields. The additional 15 – 20% cost associated with it should be weighed up against the likelihood of employee interaction with clients and customers.

For more information on EPLI, contact a member of the ArboRisk Insurance team! ArboRisk also can work one-on-one with you to create an extraordinary business through our Thrive Risk Management New Heights package!

Tom Dunn

Outlining a Career Path for Your Team

Outlining a Career Path for Your Team

Written by Kevin Martlage

I ran across a Chinese proverb the other day that made me think about the importance of creating a nurturing and supportive work environment for your team. An environment that allows them to not only be successful but helps them intentionally and transparently identify their professional career goals while having the proper support to obtain them. The Chinese Proverb goes like this, 

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.” 

You may be asking yourself, what does that have to do with a supportive work environment and specifically why having a career path for your team is important? The answer to that lies within the true meaning, in my opinion, of this proverb and how you can support your team through career development.

As professionals in the tree care industry, we are certainly able to outline and discuss the importance of a healthy green infrastructure and specifically the role a healthy canopy and each tree within that canopy. Similarly, we also know the various stages of how a tree grows and develops over time. Everything from how the seed is planted and germinates below ground with the radicle (primary root) and the plumule emerging from that seed to the seedling stage and sapling stage which leads to the Heartwood, Xylem, Phloem, outer bark, and eventually each individual branch and leaf. Without each of those stages developing in a specific order, a tree would not exist and therefore would not be a sustainable part of the ecosystem and canopy. How a tree is planted, nurtured, and developed over time is important to how that tree ultimately survives and becomes an integral part of the ecosystem which is so very important to all of us. 

With that in mind, I challenge you to think of your organization and your team as a tree that needs to be planted, nurtured, and grown over time. Specifically, think of each of your employees as an integral part of your organizational ‘canopy’ which requires the various ‘trees’, your employees, to be highly functioning and productive as you provide your service to the ‘ecosystem’ of the industry. Without a strong workforce, who is highly motivated, supported, safe, trustworthy, and strategic you will find your overall long term sustainable success to be far more challenging than it should be. A specific and detailed career path can help to attract higher quality employees, keep your current employees engaged, and set your organization apart from the competition as a highly supportive place of business that employees want to work for. 

Career paths can take many different forms regarding what they provide your employees. The number one goal in creating a career path is that it is aligned with the goals of your organization while allowing for the individual and collective growth and development of your team. 

 

When beginning to develop your employee career path, it is important to keep the following in mind:

  • What do your employees want and need from their careers (i.e., goals and desires)?
  • What can the workforce provide to your organization to be successful (i.e., needed skills)?
  • Can the developed career path be easily supported by you and your leadership team?
  • How will it be communicated to the team and kept alive once in place?

Once you have strategically determined the answers above, it is time to develop the career path for your employees and your organization. To do this, I challenge you to think about the developmental stages of a tree once again. The career path should start from the seed being planted (the hiring of a new employee) to the ‘leaves’ that are produced as that employee continues to grow within your organization. 

An example of a career path might be the following:

  • Planting the seed: Day 1
    • New Employee is hired
  • Seed Germination : Week 1
    • Radicle forms (downward) 
      • On-boarding – new hire paperwork
    • Plumule forms (towards surface)
      • On-boarding – organizational background 
      • On-boarding – team introductions
  • Seedling Stage: First 30 days 
    • Seedling forms
      • Specific on-the-job training identified
      • Specific on-the-job training provided
  • Sapling Stage: First 3 months
    • Root development
      • Mentor identified and introduced 
    • Trunk development
      • Bi-weekly mentor/supervisor meetings 
      • On the job training continues
  • Growth Stage: 2-6 months
    • Heartwood development
      • Identify and document career goals 
    • Xylem, Cambium, Phloem
      • Create a career development action plan  
    • Outer Bark development
      • Review progress to date
      • Identify opportunities for additional training
  • Nurturing Stage: 6 months +
    • Watering
      • Conduct quarterly performance meetings
    • Pruning
      • Review career action plan annually and update
      • Provide opportunities for outside certification(s)
      • Provide opportunities for external training
    • Transplanting (as needed)
      • Support internal career advancement
      • Support external career advancement

The development, communication, and support of a detailed career path for your employees is equally important to your organization’s success as your strategic plan, financial maintenance, and client acquisition. In fact, I would argue that it might be even more important as you continue to grow your organization. The proper on boarding, development, support, and nurturing of your employees will enhance your overall team culture while ensuring that your team is firmly planted in your organization for many years to come. The time to develop that career path is now. This will allow you to look back in 20 years as you enjoy the benefits of a healthy team that has helped grow your organization and provide a valuable service to your clients and the industry. 

If you struggle with the hiring process, contact an ArboRisk team member today! Our Thrive Risk Management Hiring & Recruiting Package and team of experts will help you one-on-one to create the career path that works for your organization.

5 Secrets to Better Employees

5 Secrets to Better Employees

Written by Joseph Toppi

“Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” – Richard Branson 

Want better employees? Of course you do! Nearly every company – no matter what the industry they are in – is searching for better employees to add to their team, to grow and sustain their company. They seem to never be able to find employees that can last, so they end up in this constant state of churn. 

Why? I think there are many reasons, but the underlying issue to all of the reasons is the employer. It is the hiring process, more specifically, the way the employer manages the hiring process when looking for employees. The system of hiring on skill and experience, then throwing monetary incentives to keep them is an archaic way that has lost its effectiveness some time ago. That is a system that has been proven to be nothing more than costly! 

These 5 secrets saved my companies from utter employee disaster, and allowed me to start making better employee choices and retain them longer. 

#1. Hire Based On Core Values 

In 2013, I went through a major hiring time. I hired around 50 men and women, and only retained three or four. At that time, I didn’t know why I was having so much trouble. I was hiring the most skilled, paying them above normal, and treated them very well. Still, they were not performing, and I was losing money through hiring, training, poor workmanship, and replacing. 

As I sat down to reflect on what was going on, I realized I was missing the important things I should have been hiring on – core values. 

I was trying to hire based on skill in a time when all the skilled employees were already hired. The way I was filtering my potential hires was the issue. I was looking for skill, but putting no weight on honesty, reliable, integrity, etc. If you start your hiring process by looking for those that possess the core values of your company, you can train the skill. When hiring, we want to train them in our company’s way, anyway, so why hire based on something you are going to change in them? 

 

#2. Set Clear Expectations 

When employers fail to set clear expectations of their employees from day one, the employer is setting the employee up to fail.

Too many times, the employers will give a rough outline of what the company does, and sometimes even varying deadlines, but nothing that the employee can hold themselves accountable to. Nothing the employee can be weighed against to determine if they are doing a good job or not. The worst part is, the employer ends up getting frustrated and angry at the employee, because they are not living up to the expectations the employer has!

When hiring your employees, prepare a clear set of company rules and behavioral expectations, and go over them with the new employee on Day One. As well, at the start of any tasks or projects, make sure you have production, quality, and timeline expectations set. Employees prefer this, as it provides them structure and a way to know if they are doing a good job or not. 

 

#3. Be Quick To Invest In Your Employees 

Many times, employers are afraid to invest in developing their employees because of fear. Fear that the employees will leave them for another company. Fear that employees will leave and start their own company. Just a fear that they will waste their money. This holds so many companies back from having absolutely exceptional employees, and holds so many employees back from being truly invested and caring about the company. 

When a company invests in their employees, the employees feel like they are valued, and in turn the employees will naturally want to work harder for that company. It is important to invest in training – company specific training, industry training, and personal development. Training employees goes a long way in their abilities on and off the job site.The opposite is also true – when a company refuses to invest in their employees, the employees feel unvalued, and this is when trouble starts. 

Finally, trust in your employees. Ever feel like all you are doing is putting out fires, and most of them are little things that you think your employees are more than capable of handling? They probably are, but somewhere down the line, you showed them a lack of trust and it is coming to a head. Quit being the firefighter, and start being the fire chief! 

Not investing into employees because of the fear of losing them holds so many companies back from having absolutely exceptional employees, and holds so many employees back from being truly invested and caring about the company.

 

#4. Recognize & Praise 

Why is it that employers think that money is ALL that is important to employees? I have heard employers complain so many times how they were overpaying an employee and gave them so many bonuses and benefits, and the employee still moved on. They are confused as to why. When I ask how they treated the employee, they would answer in a monetary way – “I treated them good, I paid them well.” 

What I have found is that employees – people – just want to feel appreciated. They want recognition and praise for the things they do and accomplish. Too many times, though, employers don’t recognize and praise, but rather criticize and belittle. 

Start recognizing your employees – not with money, but recognize the things they do well – recognize their value, recognize their accomplishments (both at work and personally)! Do the little things – parties, BBQ, lunch, in-house awards. Praise should be given quickly after an accomplishment, it should be personal, outlined in detail, and relevant at the time.

 

#5. Be Quick To Nurture, Not Fire 

How many times have you fired someone without giving them the opportunity to correct their attitude, behavior, or whatever it was that caused you to fire them in the first place? As well, how many times have you fired someone without at least showing them what it was that went wrong, and invested a bit of time with them to show them the right way?

Be quick to invest the time and energy into building up your employees. Don’t get me wrong, there are those people that you hire foolishly, and you know that no matter what you do, they are still going to be trouble. With the rest, you have the opportunity to not fire them, but nurture them into the best version of themselves. 

 

Hiring the right way is just as important as hiring the right person. As an employer, you are responsible for the people you hire, the culture you create, and the community they are all a part of. When you hire and maintain employees as discussed above, you will create employees that will work for you, your vision, and towards your mission. If you struggle with the hiring process, contact an ArboRisk team member today! Our Thrive Risk Management Hiring & Recruiting Package can help address your hiring woes and take your company to new heights!