How to Prepare for Your Annual DOT Inspection
The annual Department of Transportation (DOT) inspection can be a potential stumbling block for both newly established and experienced motor carriers. Annual DOT inspection audits are costly and time-consuming to prepare for, especially if, like most businesses, you’ve spent the year focused on customer satisfaction and meeting internal goals. Motor carriers know full well what it means to receive an “unsatisfactory” rating on the annual compliance audit—blacklisting from potential clients, increased insurance costs, poorer industry reputation, and lost profits.
Getting your safety management practices and compliance right is crucial, so today we’re going to highlight four strategies that you can use to get the ball rolling immediately and give yourself the best chance of success. Whether you’re generally on top of things or have neglected one or two of the inspection criteria doesn’t matter—you can start using this list today to get on the path toward a successful compliance audit.
Compliance is Company Affair
If you’re an owner or manager at a motor carrier, the biggest mistake you can make is trying to take on the whole audit by yourself. The second biggest mistake you can make is delegating it to a single staff member—they’ll be overburdened with work in no time. The DOT inspection has six different parts and it’s prudent to assign a different aspect to each staff member in your office, especially if you’re employed by a larger carrier. In addition, to support from many staff, your firm will also need cooperation and coordination with drivers to get the required paperwork completed on time. Call a staff meeting and let everybody know what’s happening – the company has its annual audit coming up and everyone needs to help with the preparation process. Drivers will have their files checked and updated as needed, signatures will be required, and everyone needs to be aware that there will be a little extra asked of them. Getting your whole team on board is crucial for successfully preparing for an audit.
Identify and Address Compliance Delays
There are many aspects of compliance audits that can take more time than just having a driver sign the hours of service records they always forget about or printing out a copy of the HAZMAT regulations for your office. Blocking out time for tasks that require the most effort will allow you to proactively schedule and get everything done by the deadline. Watch out for these items:
Missing Medical Exams – Drivers that require a medical examination must have this assessment conducted by a nationally accredited medical examiner. It may take time to find availability for this appointment for both the examiner and the driver. One potential strategy is to book the examiner to visit your motor carrier and check everyone on the same day. One of the first things you should do is determine if any of your employees require a medical examination and expedite that process right away.
Missing Vehicle Inspections – Annual vehicle inspections are like medical exams in that they must be conducted by a qualified professional. Schedule vehicle inspections and maintenance well in advance of your audit to ensure that they get done on time.
Incomplete Training – Do your staff require legally mandated training that you have failed to provide? You may have to wait between 30 and 60 days for a training course to be offered in your area, so book immediately to avoid being high and dry when it comes time for your audit.
Put Together Your Paperwork
If you don’t have an accurate and up-to-date filing system with driver qualification and HOS records stored and sorted either electronically or on paper, you’re already in some trouble. Having your paperwork organized is very important and you’ll quickly fail major parts of your compliance audit if the officer can’t find the documents they are looking for.
An upcoming audit provides the perfect excuse to set aside time to sort and organize your filing system and determine what documents are needed to complete driver qualification files. If your electronic HOS logs are out of sorts, now would be a good time to correct those. Well-organized motor carriers that are missing a few records do much better than those with complete records that are impossible to find.
Get Your Human Resources Staff on Board
Your worst-case scenario in a compliance audit is failing to become compliant and having this noted by your employees. If your own staff are telling the DOT where to look for safety violations, you don’t stand a chance of passing. You might think that your staff would never do that, and you’re mostly right, staff are often loyal and cooperative in the event of an audit if their own concerns have been addressed. In other words, now is the time to listen to the safety concerns of your employees and act decisively to correct them.
Create a culture of safety standards at your motor carrier by listening to your employees. Have your HR staff meet with drivers and administrative staff in advance of the audit and create a platform for them to express any concerns they have over safety. Listen to their observations and act on their concerns—they’re the lifeblood of your organization, so it’s important to have their perspective on anything that involves your business’ reputation and future.
Your annual DOT inspection doesn’t have to wreak havoc on your business. Even if you’re behind on preparation, you can still make a big impact in a short time. Get all your staff involved, listen to and address any concerns, get all of your paperwork organized early and book any external services that you require as soon as you can. Follow this advice and you’ll be off to a great start when it comes to acing your next DOT compliance audit.