Safety is the key watchword for any well-managed trucking operation. But when a fleet runs a variety of specialized equipment to serve a highly diversified and demanding group of customers, there can be no slack given to safety performance.
That's the situation Hilco Transport Inc. realized it was facing some 10 to 15 years ago when it began its diversification from strictly a construction firm into a provider of specialized over-the-road transport and other vocational services to outside customers.
The company itself has certainly been around long enough to know the integral value safety brings to any operation running trucks. Celebrating its 65th anniversary this year, Hilco started out as Long Brothers Construction and remains a family-owned firm, now headed by president Gurney Long, son of founder William Henry “Doc” Long.
Hilco's fleet operation today serves four operational divisions. The waste unit contracts to several of the largest providers of waste disposal and landfill operators in the U.S. and also offers transfer station management and loading services. The petroleum division hauls everything from jet fuel, to diesel and gasoline, to bulk motor oils and kerosene. The propane/liquid asphalt operation contracts for bulk delivery of propane as well as liquid asphalt. Finally, the aggregate/dump truck unit hauls everything from rock and stone to bulk fertilizers and road salt, and even handles “contaminated dirt products.”
The fleet consists of 108 tractors and 60 dump trucks, 95% of which are Macks, as well as an array of specialized trailers, including tankers.
“We're so focused on safety because it's become a ‘must have’ in this business,” states Richard Walford, vice president of maintenance, who has been with Hilco for 21 years. “The liability exposure is just so large now. Back when we began diversifying to serve a range of outside firms, we realized we really needed to step up our focus on safety across the board — not just for drivers but for our mechanics as well.
“Hilco took the approach that we needed to get the best safety expertise that we could so we could provide the best training to our drivers and mechanics,” he continues. “And we recognized, too, that customers watch our safety programs and ratings much more closely now as well. That [aspect] has become a very important part of their decision as to which transportation companies they will use.”
Determined to get as far out in front of the safety issue as it could, Hilco hired a safety expert from the airline industry. “The lady we brought in had 15 to 20 years of experience with a small northeastern airline,” remarks Walford. “We felt that the airline industry offered one of the most stringent safety cultures in transportation so we looked to tap into that. We felt adopting a much more stringent approach to safety would only make our fleet operation better.”
The next move was to hold a company meeting to get buy-in from both drivers and mechanics. “We explained the importance of why we were bringing in someone from the airline industry; really why we wanted to make our safety program the best we could. We saw this as not just being about reducing our liability and accidents costs, but to help us attract more customers — to win more business in the long run.”
Heightening the safety culture at Hilco has also benefited employee relations. “Believe it or not,” advises Walford, “our drivers and mechanics really enjoy the extra and more in-depth safety training because it shows them the high regard the company has for the work they do. They saw us bring in an airline expert and realized we were putting them on the same professional level [as airline pilots]. That's greatly played into their acceptance of what we are doing.”
According to Walford, advancing safety has clearly paid off at Hilco. “This emphasis on safety has not only helped us retain customers but actually helped us grow the company over the last year and a half — enabling us to increase our business during a very tough economic downturn. We've been very blessed, yes, but the deeper safety focus has really helped us achieve that.”