Shall, Should and May are three words whose meaning was debated upon by the National Congress on School Transportation.
I refer you to pages 175 & 176 of the minimum standard document dated May 2015. On those pages and from the industry expert-loaded conference came these words:
MAINTENANCE OF EQUIPMENT
- Teamwork and written policies are essential to a well-organized maintenance program.
- Comprehensive school bus maintenance policies and appropriate training that provide efficient guidelines for the transportation supervisor, maintenance personnel, and operators of the vehicles should be adopted.
- Such policies should include the maintenance responsibilities of each person involved and should provide for a planned preventive maintenance program.
It is certainly in the best interest of all school districts and bus companies, regardless of their size, to have formal, documented maintenance policies and procedures and to periodically verify that they are operating effectively. They provide clarity to the school bus technician when dealing with accountability issues or activities that are of critical importance to the school district or your company, such as health and safety, legal liabilities, regulatory requirements, or issues that have serious consequences.
They provide proof when asked, "Did you as an owner/operator explain and train your staff on when and how to inspect, repair and safely work on school buses?"
A recent STN survey revealed an alarming statistic: Over 60 percent of the respondents do not have policy and procedures in written form for their technicians to use as a reference.
Maintenance policies and procedures answer the "what" and "how" questions for staff within an organization. For example, "What is the school district or bus company's policy regarding brake inspections?" and "How do I perform the air brake inspection and brake maintenance procedure?" Written documentation will allow for a consistent repair approach across school bus transportation maintenance management.
Maintenance policies and procedures are the strategic link between the school district or company's vision, goals, and its day-to-day operations. But why is that so important? It's because well written policies and procedures allow employees to understand their roles and responsibilities within predefined limits. Basically, maintenance policies & procedures allow transportation management to guide maintenance operations without constant management intervention.
Policies and procedures also help to create an internal control framework. It is this internal control framework that school bus operations management will rely upon and that will ensure its organizational objectives are being met while complying with federal and state regulatory agencies.
To understand why policies and procedures are so important, we need to know what they are and differences between them. So, let's start by looking at policy then procedure.
A "Policy" is a predetermined course of action. It is a direct link between a school's transportation department or its contractor's organizational strategy, and how that fits into their school transportation day-to-day operations. Policies identify key activities and provide a general strategy to decision-makers on how to handle issues as they arise. This is accomplished by providing the maintenance employee with limits and a choice of alternatives that can be used to guide their decision-making process as they attempt to overcome work related problems.
A "Procedure" is to provide the employee with a clear and easily understood plan of action or process required to carry out or implement a policy. A well written maintenance procedure will also help eliminate common misunderstandings by identifying a technician's responsibilities and establishing boundaries for the skilled technician. Written maintenance repair procedures allow transportation maintenance managers to control (schedule) events in advance and prevent the organization (and employees) from making costly mistakes. You can think of a procedure as a school route map where the bus route details are highlighted to alert a driver from getting lost or wandering off an acceptable path identified by the operations management team.
The major differences between policies & procedures are as follows.
- Are general in nature
- Identify school district or company rules
- Explain why the rules exist
- Tell when and to whom the rule applies
- Are normally described using simple sentences and paragraphs
- Identify specific scheduling requirements
- Explain when to take actions, mileage, time etc.
- Show work process
- Include warnings and safety cautions
- Show how to use and complete inspection forms, and give examples
- Are normally written using an outline format
Ten-Step Process to Developing a Policy and Procedure Manual
- Articulate the goal (what to do and why, when, and how)
- Gather information (pre-writing research, best practice review)
- Conduct interviews with managers and staff regarding current practice and ideas
- Internet search for industry specific example policies and procedures
- Develop and write
- Obtain management support
- Obtain legal review
- Communicate change
- Interpret, train and integrate
To use the key word from the 16th National Congress on School Transportation, you SHOULD develop—through teamwork—written maintenance policies and procedures.
Robert Pudlewski is STN’s technical editor with more than 40 years of experience in the school bus industry. He is the retired vice president of fleet operations, procurement and maintenance for Laidlaw and is a member of the National School Transportation Association Hall of Fame.