When should you consult with safety consultants?

Passenger carriers face thousands of pages of regulations and enormous levels of liability while carrying their precious cargo. There are a number of sources of assistance, from publications and online training to professional consultations, for operators who want to be sure they are covering their risks. When should a bus or motorcoach carrier hire a consultant?

“I tell operators they should first consult with their insurance brokers and insurance company. They are already paying the broker a commission, so why not use them as a resource?” said Michelle Wiltgen, assistant vice president and national marketing manager for National Interstate Insurance in Richfield, Ohio.

“We are in a specialized business, and many brokers have full-service safety departments to help their clients. If their broker doesn’t, maybe they should find a broker that does,” Wiltgen said.

An insurance provider may visit a passenger carrier even before quoting them prices on coverage.

“We come out and review their records, files, procedures and policies and give them recommendations to help them improve on what they are doing. Once you are a customer, we do that on a regular basis,” Wiltgen said. “At National Interstate we have a team of over a dozen field reps that visit our customers and are available on a constant basis to give them support and help them improve their programs.

“We also have a significant web site that is a password-protected portal for our customers. It gives them things like prepackaged safety workshops, access to regulations and discounts for programs and products they could need. There is a company we work with that does online training.

“There are significant resources we provide, and I know that some of our competitors do that as well.”

Insurance providers have plenty of incentives for supporting their passenger carrier customers, she said. “The federal minimum requirement is $5 million of coverage, but we have the ability to quote up to $15 million for our clients. That is not cheap. That is not easy. We have a lot of limits out there. We want to help our customers be the best they can be so we don’t have to use those limits.”

But, she added, carriers may want to go beyond their insurance company’s resources in protecting their businesses.

“One situation that insurance companies or brokers aren’t the experts in is crisis response. I would absolutely tell any operator to engage with a public relations firm that specializes in crisis management. There are plenty of consultants out there that will help them with their messaging and help to protect their reputation in the event of a serious crisis or accident.”

Consultants also can be helpful as ongoing resources in compliance administration.

“There are some great consultants who can absolutely help with compliance,” she said. “They can help when you are figuring out the next step in your business, such as buying a different type of vehicle and knowing what is required to operate it and the things they have to comply with.”

Smaller passenger carriers may have the greatest need for consultants.

“A smaller operator or a company that is just starting typically doesn’t have access to the same resources that a bigger carrier does. The owner is the safety manager and sometimes the mechanic and driver,” Wiltgen said. “They have to be just as compliant as the large operator. Hiring a consultant might help them make sure they are on track.”

Wiltgen stressed that carriers should do research before retaining consultants.

“There are some really good consultants, but you have to be careful. I have been to enough trade shows and heard people putting themselves out there as experts when they are really not. They may have been operators who got out of the business and decided to become consultants. Even if they were in the business for a long time, that doesn’t make them experts. I have heard them give information that is inaccurate and, in some cases, illegal.”

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