How to Make a Safe Transition to an Electric Fleet – Duncan Financial Group
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How to Make a Safe Transition to an Electric Fleet
sunset city traffic, lanes full of cars

How to Make a Safe Transition to an Electric Fleet

Faced with zero emission requirements, pressures to reduce fuel and maintenance costs, and demands to make fleets more sustainable, many municipalities and companies are moving to electrify their fleet. Bringing EVs into a fleet takes time to implement and careful planning. Considerations include operational requirements, budget, cybersecurity, existing infrastructure, charging facilities, potential safety hazards, training, employee acceptance, scalability, incentives, and the regulatory environment. This article will focus onensuring that safety is incorporated into each step of the transition process.

Step 1: Planning
Give safety an equal seat at the table

Assessing the suitability of EVs for a fleet involves multiple stakeholders with diverse interests. While stakeholders will vary by company size and structure, the most common stakeholders include fleet operations, risk management, facilities and maintenance, finance, IT, technicians, and drivers as well as outside experts such as electrical utility providers, insurance agents, charging solution providers, first responders, and consultants. A good starting point is to establish a team of affected stakeholders that will examine how the existing fleet works to gauge what they’ll need from an EV fleet and develop a written plan for transition. Consensus building will be key to C-suite buy-in.

Once the plan has been developed and approved, the composition of the team may change, but the team should continue to exist. Key responsibilities include:
• Developing and overseeing policies and procedures
• Choosing the EVs, charging infrastructure, and implementing a maintenance and inspection program
• Evaluating and implementing advanced driver-assistance systems and mobile technology
• Fostering safe practices among employees and drivers with an on-going training program
• Leading incident response efforts and investigations of close calls
• Risk management
• Ensuring compliance with regulations specific to EV operations
• Monitoring effectiveness

Step 2: Implementation
Give safety equal weight in decisions

Vehicle selection, the charging infrastructure, route planning, and ADAs and mobile technologies are pivotal decisions that must include safety. While the range, battery capacity, load capacity, charging time, purchase price, maintenance costs, expected lifespan, and overall cost-effectiveness are key selection criteria for vehicles, it’s equally important to consider the safety record of the vehicle and the OEM’s support for troubleshooting, maintenance, and training. Some companies opt to start with a limited deployment by equipping a few EVs with software that enables them to assess how their route and charging strategies are working. Larger fleets may maintain a mix of EVs and traditional vehicles to manage longer routes or heavier workloads with conventional vehicles until the EV infrastructure is fully established.

When choosing a charging network, consider space, ease of use, compatibility with fleet needs, and scalability to accommodate future growth. Many insurance companies have developed standards for charging stations in new construction or when installing new components in existing buildings. While there are potential liability exposures, such as electrocution if proper grounding is not in place, or if combustibles are located too close to the charger, the major concern is the fire risk related to the lithium-ion batteries in the vehicles being charged. Putting EV charging units too close together, or too close to cars, can increase the risk of fire or electrical damage. Other insurance concerns relate to vandalism and the high cost of vehicle replacement and repair.

Switching to electric vehicles also necessitates operational adjustments, especially in how routes are planned and how vehicles are managed day-to-day. Managing the charge levels across the fleet is not only critical to avoid downtimes but also to ensure driver safety. Businesses need to consider the location of charging stations, charging time, and even weather conditions, as cold weather can significantly reduce battery efficiency. Implementing battery management strategies to extend the life and efficiency of the batteries can aid in safety. This includes temperature management, regular diagnostics, and adhering to optimal charging cycles.

Advanced telematics systems should enhance both efficiency and safety by monitoring vehicle health, providing real-time data on battery performance, including health, charging status, and cell balancing, optimizing routes, and identifying maintenance needs.

Step 3: Training
Keep drivers and mechanics safe

Operating and maintaining electric vehicles require different skills and extensive training. Drivers need to understand the differences in accelerating and braking as well as managing energy consumption and maximizing battery life. Safety training should cover emergency procedures for accidents involving electric vehicles, first aid, proper charging protocol to prevent electrical fires, and the use of telematics.

“Range anxiety” is a common reason for EV resistance. Faced with tight delivery deadlines, drivers need to have an easy way to check the battery status and be assured that the planned route is in keeping with the vehicle’s capabilities. Companies should track ranges over time to facilitate variance predictability and share the information with drivers. Some drivers are going to oppose the transition to EVs, so it’s important to include education on the reasons for and benefits of the change.

Mechanics and technicians working on EVs bear most of the risk of injury. Unique safety challenges include battery fires, storage of batteries, electrical and charging hazards, and maintenance issues. Mishandling of EV batteries can pose significant health and safety risks to those performing maintenance and repair. They will require specialized training in high-voltage systems, de-energizing, battery management, electric powertrains, and more advanced technology like digital sensors, lasers, and radar. To keep advanced telematics systems functioning properly, technicians and repair shops need to be ready to diagnose and calibrate after repair and maintenance. Having a properly vetted external service network as a resource or backup is a good practice.

Train both operators and mechanics on the process for investigating and reporting incidents, near misses, and unsafe conditions. These investigations can help identify root causes, develop corrective actions, and prevent future incidents. It’s also a good idea to train operations staff responsible for the vehicle charging stations and even first responders who may be called in an emergency. Companies should update the emergency operations plans to reflect new hazards and protocols for proper use and emergency response.

Employers will need to carefully examine the available training resources and decide whether to conduct the training, engage consultants, or outsource maintenance and repair. OEMs typically offer training resources, OSHA’s training and regulations for electrical safety and high-voltage service requirements and regulations apply, as does the National Electrical Code (NEC), or NFPA 70, and state and local regulations. The NFPA offers online training for EV dealerships, fire and rescue personnel, code officials, and charging station installers.

It’s a best practice to regularly engage with drivers and mechanics to get feedback on the EVs and the charging infrastructure. You should also update your training regularly to reflect the latest developments and best practices in the EV industry.

Step 4: Managing the fleet
Focus on safety and efficiency

Like any new technology, EVs present a range of unique challenges. Ensuring that your EVs and equipment are in good condition and working order and that any defects or damages are repaired promptly, requires a robust maintenance and inspection program. Keep records of your maintenance and inspection activities and perform regular audits and reviews of your program to identify any gaps or areas for improvement.

Determine the data you want to collect and analyze to monitor and manage your fleet performance, focusing on what’s going to make the fleet safer and more productive. Some common types of fleet data include emission reduction, total costs, vehicle condition, downtime, charging efficiency, driving behavior, incident type and frequency, operational efficiency, route topography and distance, and vehicle usage.

Stay abreast of changing regulations. In April 2024, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration proposed safety standards for regulations governing the handling of EVs. While the standard mainly applies to the OEMs manufacturing the vehicles, aspects of the regulation including the emergency response guides could offer insights to fleet managers. Monitor changes to the NEC code and relevant OSHA regulations as well as state and local regulations.

Schedule an appointment with one of our financial professionals to learn more about the financial side of transitioning to an electric fleet.