Safely onboarding new employees in transportation

Ever think about where the commercial trucks on the highway are headed? The transportation industry is responsible for transporting billions of dollars’ worth of products into and out of Colorado each year. Meanwhile, commercial truck drivers encounter a variety of unique hazards, some of which may surprise you. 

As you know, motor vehicle accidents are a serious risk in the trucking industry, but strains, slips and falls, and struck-by injuries are also significant concerns. After a long day of sitting, routine movements such as getting out of the rig can become dangerous. In inclement weather, loading and unloading is even trickier. In an industry that exposes even experienced drivers to risks on a daily basis, it’s especially important to understand the increased risks to new drivers. 

New drivers experience work-related injuries at a higher frequency. These injuries can put your newest and most vulnerable employees at risk, and they can also impact the financial stability of your business. In 2019, claims filed for new-hire drivers cost Colorado businesses $4,156,233.

Since there are many factors that impact new-hire safety in transportation, it’s essential that you take the time to recognize driver skill levels and driver weaknesses to prepare new drivers for the risks of the road. Any new employee coming into your organization will require an introduction to the way your organization values safety and conducts business. 

Every new hire deserves the opportunity to be successful and perform his or her job safely. 

An onboarding process is essential to protecting new employees and preventing them from becoming statistics. Transportation organizations should design an onboarding process that involves orientation, management buy-in, effective communication, safety training and screening.

Design an orientation process for all new hires

Your process should include an orientation that continues beyond day one and includes a verbal check-in with new employees at 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, six months and 12 months after their hire dates. Checking in monthly helps ensure that your employees have the appropriate training they need to drive safely. This approach encourages safe attitudes and safe work behaviors and helps prevent injuries on the road. (See the sample check-in checklist at the end of this article.)

Transportation employee onboarding flow chart

Management commitment is critical to safety success

This means that those in positions of leadership should demonstrate a commitment to safety and take an active role to provide adequate time, resources, personnel and financial support to create as safe a work environment as possible. Safety measures should be incorporated into the business model to demonstrate that the organization values safety and believes it is as important as your operations and production are. 

Effective communication in action

Strengthen your safety message by making sure communication with new employees comes from management. Communicate in person or through a written letter or video. For example, you can create a written safety policy statement from the owner/president to welcome new hires and express the importance of workplace safety. If you’re feeling creative, you can even use your mobile device to create a 30-second video from the owner/president. However you choose to communicate, tell your new employees (even those with years of experience) about your commitment to safety and your expectations so they understand the importance of safety at your organization. This effort can positively influence worker attitudes and behaviors. 

Safety training is an important way to prevent new-hire injuries

Training is vital for employees who face occupational hazards on the road and at your facility. It is also required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT)

Safety training for new employees should include how to recognize job hazards and how to control or eliminate those hazards. Some of the OSHA standards that require training include emergency preparedness, hazard communication, ladders and personal protective equipment. Conversely, DOT standards require training on entry-level driving, whistleblower protection, and drug and alcohol use. Pinnacol offers complimentary and low-cost in-person and online training to every policyholder. 

Selective screening tools

Now that we’ve gone over how to begin developing an onboarding process, don’t forget that managing new-hire risk begins before you actually hire your employee. In addition to your development of an onboarding process, selective screening tools can be utilized to minimize the chances of hiring someone who is not a good fit for the organization. These screening tools go beyond the requirements that may be conducted during the pre-employment or post-offer application process. Note that you should always check with your employment law representative prior to implementing screening options. Some pre-employment screening options include:

  • References.
  • Credit scores.
  • Criminal records.
  • Drug and alcohol screens.
  • Education verifications.
  • Re-employment verifications.
  • E-Verify.
  • Integrity testing.
  • Motor vehicle records.
  • Name and address verifications.
  • Professional certification verifications.
  • Sex offender registries.
  • Social Security validations.
  • Workers’ compensation history.
  • Fit-for-duty evaluations. 

Implement a driver mentorship program

Another essential part of onboarding a new employee is a driver mentorship program. Mentorship programs are an excellent way to mitigate risk to employees and equipment, helping your employees:

  • Hone new-hire driving skills.
  • Demonstrate proper care of loads and equipment.
  • Improve customer service.
  • Share knowledge and lessons learned, broadly.
  • Improve the safety culture of your operation. 

A mentorship program improves the skill set of your new hires while recognizing your most tenured and valued employees. Selecting the right mentor for the job is a crucial piece of the puzzle. 

The ideal mentorship

Your organization should start creating a program by establishing a process to select mentors. When selecting an employee to fill this role, it is important for that individual to fully embody the standards of the organization’s safety program and cultural expectations. The mentor is there to set the example for the new employee while helping them develop the skills and techniques necessary to get the job done safely. 

Safety leaders as mentors

The mentors should be experienced, skilled drivers with excellent safety records. Additionally, interpersonal skills should be considered. A high-performing employee may be excellent at their job, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will make a good mentor. The mentor must be willing to devote time and energy to the new employee and should possess solid communication and listening skills. Think of your mentors as your organization’s coaches who are the positive and encouraging force driving your new drivers toward success. 

Mentors are not necessarily managers

Ideally, the mentors should not be the new employees’ manager, and both the mentor’s and the driver’s expectations should be set accordingly. A new employee and manager relationship may inhibit a mentorship from flourishing. Selecting mentors who aren’t members of the management team allows the new employee and the mentor to form a more casual relationship, creating personal bonds that build trust. This can help increase the new driver’s comfort level and allow for more open conversations and questions that will help the new employee learn and thrive. Asking your employees for volunteers or to nominate mentors is a great way to begin the mentor consideration and selection process. 

Sometimes a new driver is reluctant to listen and take instructions from a mentor who isn’t a member of management. The mentor must be someone who has the skills to convey their experience and knowledge effectively despite their lack of authority. The mentor should be skilled in encouraging positive behaviors and providing constructive criticism to the new driver, who may be struggling with a portion of their training. 

Program evaluation

Monitoring the results of your mentorship program is crucial to ensuring its effectiveness. The mentorship program should be monitored by the safety coordinator or a member of management, who will evaluate whether the mentors and drivers are creating beneficial relationships and that the program is reaching its desired outcomes. Is this program bringing value to the organization? Is there any return on investment? One of the best ways to evaluate a mentorship program is with employee surveys. Surveys provide insight into whether the mentor and driver have forged a strong relationships, and they will help you identify whether the driver is progressing in their training program. We’ve included a sample Mentee Evaluation Form as part of this resource to get you started. 

If you have more questions about onboarding new employees please contact us at Our safety consultants are available Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. and can address all your questions quickly.

Injuries experienced by employees in the transportation Industry from 2015 to 2018

Take a look at the snapshot of the claims reported in the transportation sector for workers employed zero to 12 months. Since 2015, the transportation industry in Colorado has seen a concerning upward trend in claims experienced by workers with fewer than 12 months on the job. 

How does your organization look compared to the rest of the transportation industry in Colorado?

Claims experienced by workers on the job  fewer than 12 months

Of all Pinnacol transportation claims, new-hire claims account for almost half of the total number of claims filed. For example, in 2017, new-hire claims accounted for 58% of the total claims costs and 45% of the total claims filed.