Offsite Audits: The Future of FMCSA Auditing
What are Offsite Audits?
As the name suggests, offsite audits are held remotely – without the auditor coming to a company's s place of business. Instead, auditors will often ask questions over the phone and request various compliance documents to be sent electronically using the FMCSA portal.
For companies that are already using a digital recordkeeping system, this process is fairly straightforward – especially if it’s part of their DOT compliance management system.
Foley customers, for example, can download files from their company platform and provide them to the auditor in just a few minutes. Those with digital DOT recordkeeping in place are also much less likely to have incomplete files, as the software monitors the compliance of each driver and sends alerts and notifications when files are outdated or incomplete.
For companies that are still using paper recordkeeping systems, the process is more tedious. Upon the auditor’s request, all documents must be scanned, saved as digital files, and then either uploaded to the FMCSA portal or emailed directly to the auditor.
Companies are typically given only about 48 hours to gather and submit documentation. Maintaining fully compliant files is crucial, as there isn’t a lot of time to locate and provide incomplete files if a document is missing.
What are the FMSCA Safety Ratings?
Safety ratings are publicly accessible and up-to-date records of a company's compliance with federally regulated safety fitness standards. According to the FMCSA, these ratings are based on the “safety management controls” that companies have in place to maintain their compliance with safety and hazardous materials regulations. These controls must be appropriate to a company’s size and type of operation.
After an offsite audit, FMCSA-regulated companies can be assigned one of three safety ratings: satisfactory, conditional, or unsatisfactory. We explain the definition of each rating below.
This is the best possible rating, meaning a company has functional and adequate safety management in place.
Conditional safety ratings are given to companies that do not have adequate safety management controls in place or have failed to follow some safety protocols.
Companies with this rating are still permitted to operate, but their relationships with customers, brokers, and creditors will likely be impacted (that is, business partners could become wary of working with a Conditional carrier because it could disrupt their business and reputation as well). These companies' insurance premiums are also likely to increase, or they may not be able to secure insurance at all.
This is the worst possible safety rating, meaning that a company has failed to implement or upgrade compliant safety protocols. It signals that the FMCSA has made a preliminary determination that the company is unfit to continue operating in interstate commerce and is ineligible for federal contracts. The company must make necessary safety improvements in 45 to 60 days to be able to continue operating.
The first step to upgrading a Conditional rating is to address issues presented by the FMCSA and formally request a new rating. It is critical that companies document all procedures along the way as proof that they are taking steps in the right direction.
If a company receives an Unsatisfactory rating – and they wish to remain in business – they’ll need to immediately create and implement a detailed corrective action plan and submit this plan to the FMCSA. They will then be closely scrutinized by the agency until they request and receive a safety rating upgrade.
What Triggers a Safety Audit?
While safety audit notifications may seem surprising, they aren't necessarily random. The FMCSA tracks companies that have displayed elevated safety risks on the road. If any of your drivers have been involved in DOT-recordable accidents, your company has a poor CSA score, or any of your CMVs have failed DOT roadside inspections, your company has a higher risk of being audited.
What are the Implications of a Poor Safety Rating?
The FMCSA now permits auditors to issue Unsatisfactory and Conditional safety ratings during offsite audits. The agency made this allowable in the spring of 2020, but it has become standard practice since then.
As a federally regulated motor carrier, you should know that a Conditional or Unsatisfactory designation can jeopardize your business. Recovering especially from an Unsatisfactory rating can be a long, challenging, and costly process. Or worse, it could result in you closing your doors for good.
In order to reduce their chances of receiving a poor safety rating, federally regulated companies should take every possible step to prepare for offsite audits before they're selected for them.
How Can You Maintain a Good Safety Rating?
It's much easier for a business to maintain its current Satisfactory rating than to recover from the damage of a poor rating. To avoid slipping into a lower safety rating category, it's essential to always comply with FMCSA and DOT regulations; regularly maintain, inspect, and update equipment; and keep accurate and up-to-date DOT records.
Motor vehicle report (MVR) monitoring can also play a major role in keeping you compliant.
Foley's MVR monitoring program continuously monitors your drivers' records and sends alerts whenever new information is detected. This could be a DUI or other driving-related arrest, an accident, a medical certificate downgrade, a speeding ticket, or CDL suspension, revocation, or expiration. Companies are notified of positive changes as well, such as when a driver has renewed their CDL or medical certificate, for example.
Foley’s MVR monitoring solution includes a dedicated online platform you can access from any mobile device. As soon as you receive an MVR notification, you can take immediate action. Essential CDL and medical card expiration dates are also tracked, ensuring your drivers have the correct credentials to operate. Lapses in these areas result in all-too-common FMCSA violations.
MVR monitoring also fulfills your annual MVR requirement by running new reports once per year for each of your driver’s files and performing annual violation reviews.
Simply put, by keeping close tabs on drivers, you’ll be able to operate a safer fleet and maintain a strong safety rating – the ultimate secret to any federally regulated company's success.
Interested in learning more about Foley’s MVR Monitoring program and how we can help maintain (or improve) your safety rating? Click here to schedule a free program demo or call (800) 253-5506.
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