Pre-Employment Screening Best Practices
ASK THE EXPERTS: Pre-employment screening, driver factors that impact safety risk and the rules might come from it.
For some carriers, as the pressure to fill empty driver seats, pre-employment screening can become a check the box activity instead of an honest search for the best and safest drivers. Instead of a thorough examination of a driver’s safety background, some carriers are only working to quickly fulfill the various regulatory requirements around driver hiring, with little investigation into whether the driver will be the best fit for the organization.
This is particularly upsetting given some of the useful and groundbreaking research that has recently been published on the topic. One important study is the Pre-employment Screening Best Practices in the Commercial Motor Vehicle Industry study published in May 2020 by the National Surface Transportation Safety Center for Excellence. Researchers surveyed more than 40 safety managers from freight and passenger carriers representing nearly every segment of the industry asking their opinion on the most effective pre-employment screening methods. Below are the identified 7 screening practices in order from most effective to least.
1. Performance or Skills Testing – Rated as most effective, performance or skills testing is most often conducted as a DOT skills test consisting of an on-road portion and a range or yard portion. Most respondents preferred an in-person test versus a simulator saying there’s so substitute for the real thing.
2. Background Checks – There are many forms of background testing but the most common to the surveyed audience was motor vehicle record checks and previous employer verification. The Safety Mangers rated the MVR and FMCSA’s Pre-employment Screening Program as the most effective checks that can be conducted.
3. Drug Testing – While drug testing has long been a required portion of pre-employment screening, new data is emerging on its effectiveness as new testing methods become available to carriers. 17% of surveyed carriers used a combination of urinalysis, hair testing and oral fluid testing. The remaining 83% used only urinalysis. Only 4.5% of carriers that use only urinalysis said they would consider using other testing methods.
4. Personality Testing – Finding drivers that are a good fit for the carrier’s safety culture can be an important part of improved productivity and driver retention and reduced crashes. While few carriers conducted used true personality tests to uncover characteristics like conscientiousness or agreeableness, most found simple tools like personal interviews to be very effective in screening drivers.
5. Commercial Driver Medical Exam – While those surveyed agreed that ensuring the driver was properly and medically qualified was key to safety, carriers took different stances on whether they should require already certified drivers to be recertified by the carrier’s preferred medical examiner. Some required drivers to be recertified if their medical card was near expiration while others only required a valid med card to meet minimum driver qualifications.
6. Physical Ability Testing – More than half of respondents performance additional health and fitness testing beyond the required medical exam though not for safety but to reduce the likelihood of musculoskeletal injury. It was not rated as an effective method to screen for safety.
7. Social Media Screening – None of the respondents reported using social media screening and most rated it as ineffective. Respondents thought it was too time-consuming and an invasion of privacy.
5 Commercial Driver's Safety Risk Factors
To effectively screen driver applicants, its important to understand which driver characteristics and behaviors are indicative of an elevated future safety risk. Here too, new research can provide good guidance. In June 2020, the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute published research titled the Commercial Driver Safety Risk Factors Study. Here, researchers collected data from over 21,000 drivers over three years to discover indicators of future safety risk. The drivers were divided into equal age cohorts to control for the likelihood that many of the factors may increase with age. Below is a short list of the primary findings.
1. Medical Conditions – Researchers studied drivers with diabetes and elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure, obstructive sleep apnea and other conditions to determine if they reduced safety. What they found was that, in general, drivers with treated medical conditions were no more likely to be convicted of a traffic violation or be involved in a crash that those without the condition. If the condition went untreated however, the risk for both was elevated.
2. Previous Moving Violations – Not surprisingly, researchers confirmed that drivers with a conviction for a moving violation within the last three years were 58% more likely to be involved in a DOT recordable crash and 45-62% more likely to be convicted of a moving violation, depending on age.
3. Age and Driving Experience – While the study did confirm that as drivers age, they generally become less risky (with each year, the chance of a moving violation conviction decreases by 6% and a crash by 4%), they also learned that experience was at least as important a factor in predicting future risk. This has lead some to conclude that there is no safety-based reason to not use younger drivers when training systems are in place.
4. Obstructive Sleep Apnea – One of the biggest findings from this study was that drivers with treated obstructive sleep apnea are up to 60% less likely to be in a recordable crash, depending on age, and up to 72% less likely to receive a traffic conviction. The study even found that in some age groups, drivers with treated obstructive sleep apnea were safer than those without OSA at all.
5. Seat Belt Use – Finally, the study confirmed what many already understand, driver that will not wear their seat belts are more likely to exhibit unsafe behavior than those that do. No surprises there.
The truck driver shortage places a lot of stress on motor carriers to hire quickly and efficiently. Successfully hiring safe drivers however, requires a deliberate process that uses proven processes to identify driver characteristics that will lead to reduced risk in the future. Fortunately, we can look to recent research to help guide our decision making.