US forest service tracks motor vehicle incidents nationwide and reduces reporting time by 50%

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The United States Forest Service (USFS) is responsible for administering 193 million acres of forests and grasslands. Established in 1905, the first Chief of the Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, summed up the service’s dedication to enhancing, restoring and protecting America’s landscapes and water resources by stating the purpose of the Service is “To provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people.” The agency also strives to provide the greatest good for thousands of its employees through a proactive worker health and safety program that utilizes the latest information management systems.

In 2009, U.S. Forest Service safety managers set out to address a key category of daily risk factors by focusing on motor vehicle incidents at more than 2,000 USFS locations across the United States. They launched an internal policy initiative dedicated to diligently monitoring, categorizing, storing and analyzing information about every vehicular accident involving USFS employees and vehicles. Their mission is to gain a complete picture of vehicle accident trends so preventive measures can be identified and implemented – including steps designed to raise awareness and promote better driving habits among USFS drivers – in order to protect both agency staff and the public.

The Forest Service’s entire workforce has access to USFS vehicles as they fulfill their various duties and the number of workers fluctuates from 30,000 in the winter off season up to a mammoth 50,000 in the peak summer months (not including seasonal employees who also need to be tracked for trend analysis.)

For financial purposes, the Forest Service also needs to track chargeable and non-chargeable incidents. It classifies any vehicle damages costing more than $500 as a 'chargeable' incident. To track progress in accident prevention, USFS measures accident frequency rates and seeks to reduce the number of incidents.

The success of the U.S. Forest Service’s motor vehicle safety initiative depends on the agency’s centralized “Safety and Health Integrated Portal System” (SHIPS), which was implemented in 2003 and is powered by IHS Compliance Suite® software. SHIPS is a robust, flexible system that helps USFS safety experts accurately collect, aggregate and analyze safety incident data nationwide.

Since 2009, innovative enhancements to Compliance Suite reporting capabilities have enabled USFS staff to manage vehicle incident data more easily and accurately. As a result, they are using SHIPS to track type of vehicle, causal factors, environmental conditions, driver information, third-party data, repair estimates and even view driver accident histories. SHIPS helps USFS users generate and auto-populate forms and reports that detail accident log entries, driver's license information and vehicle maintenance. Supervisors can attach related images and documents to individual claims, including scanned police reports and accident photographs.

Another challenge facing the Forest Service team was the need to get required forms filled out and submitted in a timely manner. Prior to the implementation of SHIPS’ new vehicle incident tracking capability, tracking incidents within the USFS was done using cumbersome paper forms, spreadsheets, emails and scanned photos – all stored in disparate databases. Hardcopies were faxed from one department to another as each claim went through the proper workflows. Sometimes faxes were illegible. Other times, data had to be entered and reentered manually onto paper forms as claims were being processed.

Thanks to the centralized SHIPS platform, all of the incident information required to process a claim can now be instantly accessed from a single source by anyone, anywhere across the Forest Service, with the click of a mouse – provided that the user has the appropriate system access. Documents can be electronically populated and submitted well within the 48-hour deadline that the USFS has established as a guideline. In fact, SHIPS has reduced the amount of time that it takes Forest Service staff to fill out federal vehicle accident reports, Standard Form 91s (or SF91s), by 50 percent.

“It used to take 60-90 minutes to complete an SF91 - I would say it now takes 20- 40 minutes, depending on the amount of detail,” says Roger Pigeon, Safety & Occupational Health Manager with the U.S. Forest Service.

Managers now leverage SHIPS to help them perform analysis of casualty factors and trends for the number of accidents, the severity of employee injuries, the vehicle damage and costs. This is especially helpful in focusing training efforts and dollars, identifying trends, developing recommendations, and following up on corrective actions. They can even track accidents based on a specific vehicle (by VIN number), injury type or individual employee.

'We continually monitor factors such as age of driver, day of the week and time of day, type of vehicle, where incident occurred, what was the activity at time of incident, environmental conditions, estimated damage incurred and estimated repair costs to name a few,' Pigeon adds.

SHIPS’ robust data analysis capabilities have allowed the U.S. Forest Service to standardize policies and processes regarding incidents across the country. The organization currently uses the system to track 113,000 employees (current and seasonal) and more than 3,400 vehicles at the service’s 2,052 facilities. And they look to achieve more with the system in the coming years.

“We hope to develop motor vehicle near-miss data as well to work toward preventing accidents before they occur,” Pigeon says. “SHIPS will be an even greater asset when we can use it to produce reports identifying the type and conditions of nearmisses that could be used in developing focused employee training, more emphasis on proper vehicle maintenance, and maybe better matching of driver skills to certain types of vehicles.”

SHIPS is also enabling the Forest Service to comply with U.S. Executive Order 13011, which directs federal agencies’ to make their operations more sustainable by reducing their use of paper products. With SHIPS and its Web-based Compliance Suite software, USFS offices are making substantial progress towards that requirement and, in the process, saving storage space and money previously spent on paper supplies.

With SHIPS and its new motor vehicle safety tracking capabilities, the U.S. Forest Service is successfully saving time and money while creating a safer environment for employees and national forest visitors alike – bringing the greatest good to the greatest number of people.

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