Coverage Spotlight: School Bus Contractor

How to Manage the Unique Risks of School Bus Drivers

Transporting young children is risky business. In this Q&A, an underwriting VP discusses solutions to minimize the exposures.
By: | May 10, 2018 • 6 min read

Imagine navigating all the normal risks of driving — congested traffic, aggressive drivers, distracted drivers — while also taking responsibility for the safety of a couple-dozen elementary schoolchildren in your backseat. School bus drivers and contractors take on significant liability risk each time they hit the road, as well as some other unique exposures not faced by a typical commercial auto fleet.

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Mark Plousis, Vice President, Commercial Underwriting, Philadelphia Insurance Companies, describes some of the challenges faced by school bus contractors, and the solutions available to mitigate the risk.

R&I: What are the top areas of exposure for school bus contractors?

Mark Plousis: An estimated 26 million kids take a bus every day, and all the activities associated with children entering and exiting a bus and being transported create exposure, especially when the children are very young and maybe not as aware of their surroundings.

Last year, there were 22 child fatalities associated with activities around a school bus. It usually results from someone not adhering to the signals on the bus, driving around it while it’s stopped, and hitting a child going to or from the bus. In some cases, it results from the school bus actually hitting a child or from activities taking place on the bus.

Mark Plousis, Vice President, Commercial Underwriting, Philadelphia Insurance Companies

There are various abuse issues that are associated with the school bus contractors, whether that’s aggressiveness or sexual abuse from a driver to a passenger, or passenger on passenger abuse. Incidents like these are very rare, but anything involving a child immediately becomes significant.

Automobile physical damage and liability risk is another big area of exposure, especially weather-related catastrophes

R&I: What are the top drivers of auto liability risk?

MP: As with all of the commercial auto industry, distracted drivers are a big problem. A school bus driver is distracted enough with the activities of multiple children entering and exiting the bus, or horsing around on the bus and making noise. The driver is also expected to look out for bad behavior like bullying. And today that’s compounded by the prevalence of handheld devices. Some drivers are checking their phones and texting while driving. We need school bus drivers to be totally alert and totally aware.

PHLY’s Vice President of Commercial Auto Underwriting, Mark Plousis, explains the built-in safety standards for the School Bus industry.

R&I: Many commercial auto fleets use telematics to track driver behavior. Are school buses equipped with telematics?

MP: School buses have been active in the telematics business for a long time, beginning with simply installing cameras on board. Today, the cost of telematics systems is dropping as the technology gets cheaper and easier to produce, so more of our contractors have implemented fleet telematics. It does help manage the driver, because the driver knows he or she is being watched, and it may also help manage the children for the same reason.

In addition to conditioning behavior of the driver and the passenger, telematics systems also memorialize the data, including speed, hard braking, sharp turning, etc. So over time, we start to see drivers not using their phones while they’re operating the bus, and being cognizant of their speed, how they make turns, and how hard they hit the brakes. School bus contractors can manage their risks much more effectively with the help of telematics.

R&I: Do schools set certain standards that bus contractors must adhere to around the maintenance of the vehicles or qualifications of drivers?

MP: The federal government actually sets a lot of standards for the “traditional” yellow school bus. The National Highway Traffic Safety Association dictates how the buses are built, maintained and operated, and has established safety standards on the drivers.

As with all of the commercial auto industry, distracted drivers are a big problem.

Many states have additional driver requirements on top of that, such as a criminal background and sexual offender background check. Each state may have different standards around bus specs — everything from its structure to how high the seats are and how the swing arm is attached. And each state reviews the buses of each contractor to make sure that they comply, so there is a lot of built-in risk management by the states.

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It’s imperative that contractors follow these guidelines and do everything in their power to ensure their vehicles are safe and their drivers are qualified, otherwise they risk losing their contracts with a school district and may end up out of business.

R&I: What risk mitigation recommendations would you make to school bus contractors?

MP: The top items are driver screening and driver training.

Many contractors that we work with already do extensive training, both onsite at their facilities and on the road, having drivers practice their routes and familiarize themselves with their stops. They’ve taken a very hands-on approach.

Insurance coverage is secondary to proactive risk management.

As part of our School Bus Contactor Program, we also offer several risk management services, including an online driver safety training program that focuses on distracted driving.

Screening driver history can be more difficult, but we are addressing that with DMV monitoring. We put all of our contractors’ drivers into one of our vendor’s databases and monitor their driving activity 24/7. If a school bus driver has a speeding incident or a DUI incident on a Friday or Saturday night, we’ll know about it right away, and we’ll let our insureds know about it. Addressing those issues immediately is the best way to keep unsafe drivers off the road, which goes a long way in reducing all kinds of risk. Insurance coverage is secondary to proactive risk management.

R&I: What other services are included in Philadelphia Insurance’s school bus contractor program?

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MP: We have a team of risk management consultants that will work with insureds on a number of issues. They’ll review each account’s loss history, identifying patterns to see where they can help reverse a negative trend. They’ll review safety manuals and help to create a better one if needed. They’ll do field inspections of their yard and each individual bus to make sure everything’s safe. They’ll also provide one-on-one driver training. It’s a hands-on approach.

R&I: What coverages does the program provide?

MP: The key benefits of the program are auto liability and auto physical damage. We also have an auto enhancement form that gives some good physical damage coverages to the operators, including a zero deductible for repair of glass, and coverage for towing, lease gap, electronic equipment and other physical damage causing loss of use. Property/casualty commercial general liability, as well as abuse and molestation coverage are also available.

In the event of a significant accident, we do have crisis management coverages that can be utilized immediately, which includes image restoration. With social media and the ability for word to spread so quickly, it’s important to make sure companies respond to an incident quickly, but correctly, and also to ensure no one is defaming their character unfairly. We have a team of contractors with the company that can work with our insured to make sure that their reputation is maintained and taken care of. &

Katie Dwyer is an associate editor at Risk & Insurance®. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.

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That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.

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Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]