ISO 9000 Impact on Safety Performance in the Trucking Industry

Principal Investigator:

Alfred Marcus, Professor, Carlson School of Management

Project Summary:

In 1997, 444,000 large trucks (gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds) were involved in traffic crashes in the United States; 4,871 were fatal crashes in which 5,355 people died (U.S. Department of Transportation, NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts, 1997). This constituted 13 percent of all the traffic fatalities reported in 1997. An additional 133,000 were injured in those crashes. In 1997, there were 4,991 large truck crashes in Minnesota. This total represents a 7 percent decrease from the previous year. However, the total number of truck crashes for 1997 is slightly higher than average from the previous five year period. There were 90 fatal truck crashes in 1997, killing 105 people. In addition 2,042 people were injured. Unlike other types of crashes, truck crashes resulting in severe injury have not been decreasing in the 1990s. It is generally acknowledged that federal motor carrier safety regulation may be inadequate to regulate the many different kinds and number of operators in the industry. Can voluntary ISO 9000 certification serve to alleviate the regulatory burden and improve overall motor carrier safety? Based on quality assurance theories and empirical observations the aim of the proposed research is to develop an explanation for if, when, and, under which circumstances and conditions ISO9000, the world's most popular quality assurance and management system, is likely to have a positive effect on a trucking company's safety and other performance results. The conditions under which companies become certified differ. These differences range from the size and visibility of the company, its motivation for certification, the auditors and consultants the company engages, the process and content of certification itself (e.g. the experience of the auditors with the industry and its safety problems and their capability of transferring their experience to the certified company), and post-certification actions the company takes, for example the kind of and post-certification actions the company takes, for example the kind of driver training it introduces, the maintenance practices it follows, and the way it learns from mishaps and other types of near misses through the corrective action procedure that ISO9000 imposes. For instance to what extent does certification lead to the collection of new data about mishaps and the introduction of a new procedure for learning? To what extent does it lead to the introduction of new internal auditing procedures and what kind of learning takes place as a consequence? It is our contention that certification can have a positive effect on safety but only under specific circumstances, and it is these circumstances that we would like to bring to light in this research. During the last several years, there has been a mammoth campaign for organizations to seek and obtain certification. Over 300,000 organizations around the world already have been certified and nearly the same number are in the process of doing so. About 200 trucking companies in the US are ISO9000 certified. In the research that we will carry out we will try to differentiate among the circumstances under which certification is carried out and implemented, both with respect to the process itself and post-certification steps that the company takes. To what extent is safety an explicit objective in the certification process itself, and to what extent is a greater commitment to it a factor after certification occurs.

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