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Navigating FMCSA Regulations featuring Clay Merches

In episode 5 of Solving the Driver Problem, Scott talks safety and compliance with safety guru Clay Merches. Clay is the president of Leading Edge Consulting, a firm that works with carriers to improve their safety results. He has over 20 years of experience in all areas of the transportation industry.

Merches's first trucking job was as a night dispatcher at age 18, and having graduated college with a focus on law, safety and compliance within the trucking industry was a natural fit. He then moved into a safety director position, and was able to learn a great deal about rules, regulations, safety. Ultimately, he started his own company to help as many carriers as possible.

Merches explains that knowing the rules and regulations of the trucking industry is the first step toward building a successful safety program. Truckers can't follow the rules if they don't know them; that's why Merches takes the legalese from Section 385 and makes it as clear and concise as possible.

He goes over the process of learning the Rules of the Game, with help from the slide below (click to enlarge):

Understanding the Rules of the Game - Compliance Review

When asked how to interpret these regulations to real-world situation, Merches tells Rea that the FMCSA has already gone through that process for the most part, and makes these interpretations available on its website in a Q-and-A section. This is a valuable resource for safety directors to reference if there is any confusion behind wording, beliefs, and the like.

Rea and Merches then go on to talk about prioritizing key sections of the regulations. Merches references that there are instances and patterns of non-compliance; the instances, or acute violations, earn you one point (points are not desirable). Critical violations are patterns of noncompliance that also earn 1 point for reaching a certain threshold.

Rea then brings up the topic of the nuclear verdict. He asks how can carriers avoid these detrimental events from happening? Merches responds that carriers should set up a good safety program that manages compliance and trains and educates drivers and all employees alike.

So how can safety directors take a book of boring regulations and make it applicable to the real world? Merches answers quite simply, make it personal to the drivers. All of these efforts are there to protect drivers - not the company - and helping them understand that fact is key.

When it comes to audits and being prepared for them, Merches states that it is vital to know the acute and critical violations that the carrier has fallen victim to, and what they are going to do to prevent a recurrence.

49 CFR 385 - Acute and Critical Violations - Example

One of the key takeaways that Merches mentions in relation to interpreting CSA scores is the formation of a peer group of safety directors to compare and share tips. Finding similarly-sized carriers and sharing scores and best practices is a great way to improve across all participating companies and keep drivers safe on the road.

Later on in the interview, Rea poses the question about virtual audits, where Merches strongly encourages carriers go digital with their driver qualification files for that exact reason. He agrees that virtual off-site audits are great for the business, and adds that if carriers haven't been digitizing records 10 or 15 years ago, they need to start now.

As the interview wraps up, he offers some advice to safety directors: read, listen, and absorb all information about rules and regulations as possible - both within the trucking industry and from outside areas. The FMCSA and local and state trucking organizations are great sources for staying up-to-date.


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