Keeping children safe by building a safety-focused workforce

First Student promotes safety as a core value for both employees and communities

Dennis R. Maple, President, First Student, Inc.

How do you build a workforce culture centered around safety?

School bus drivers carry the nation’s most important assets: our children. And with the types and numbers of decisions school bus drivers make daily, drivers must make safety their core value. With more than 25 million children riding school buses each day, First Student safety teams focus on interactively bringing safety to the forefront through discussion, engagement and positive reinforcement. That’s a key part of what we ask our executive and management teams to do: foster safety development and personal responsibility. Safety must be a personal core value from the CEO to school bus drivers. For districts running their own transportation operation, it’s no different. Safety must be the core focus, whether it’s a superintendent implementing a districtwide positive behavior management system in the classroom and on the bus, or a principal reminding a child to hold the rail as they ascend the school bus stairs, or a teacher thanking a teenager for minding the school’s parking lot speed limit. “It takes a village” when it comes to our students’ safety, we cannot cut corners.

What kind of safety conversations reinforce good behaviors?

First Student partners with Aubrey Daniels International, using its “Touchpoints” to discuss safety based on observations. Aubrey Daniels International is a leader in behavior-based safety. We target conversations around positively reinforcing those safety-critical behaviors such as obeying speed limits, observing the last step, encouraging three-point contact and others. Recognizing good behaviors gives team members chances for coachable moments regarding behaviors that fall short of our safety expectations.

How do you bring parents and communities into your safety culture?

I’m really proud of the work we’ve done in this area. Many parents come to Safety Dog Bus Tour events and are amazed, in a good way, at how school buses have changed over the years. School buses are 70 times safer than cars, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and that’s due to the good work the industry has done to make school buses the safest vehicles on the road. We speak to parents and PTAs about how their actions at home, and on the road, make for a safer community as a whole. Because of our company’s dedication to safety, the National Safety Council granted us the Green Cross for Safety Award¬Á†. We’re very proud of that, because we work hard not only to make our own company safer, but to inform the public so they can operate more safely in their community.

Talk about the culture of safety during an emergency.

Training regarding emergencies revolves around risk assessment, security and response. Emergency drills with drivers focus on assessing situations, securing the environment, then responding safely and appropriately. Evacuation plans are discussed with drivers, who take into account students’ abilities, mobility devices and layout of buses. Our executive and management teams also participate in local and regional drills. Assessing risks and developing actions before any emergency makes our response targeted and safety-focused. We transport more students on our buses each day than all domestic airlines carry passengers combined, so establishing a safety culture from the top down is not an option, but an imperative.

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