Safety Matters

A few months ago, 30 drivers for Cardinal Logistics Management serving pet retailer PetSmart cleared two-million miles of highway driving without incurring a single preventable accident. Although many truck drivers reach and pass million-mile milestones every year, eclipsing such a target is a very difficult task – especially when an operator tries to get a group of drivers to achieve it together.

A few months ago, 30 drivers for Cardinal Logistics Management serving pet retailer PetSmart cleared two-million miles of highway driving without incurring a single preventable accident.

Although many truck drivers reach and pass million-mile milestones every year, eclipsing such a target is a very difficult task – especially when an operator tries to get a group of drivers to achieve it together. However, though the process requires a lot of resources in terms of time and money from company management, the return on that investment can be substantial, according to Roy Champaigne, operations manager for Cardinal.

“Who you put behind the wheel of your trucks is the most important decision you will make every day for the fleet,” he explains. “Putting the right person at the wheel, with the proper incentives, means you not only will have less turnover, but you will have no accidents. That, in turn, improves your company’s profits.”

“Make no mistake though – the odds are against you for achieving accident-free driving,” adds Diane Caldemeyer, vp of operations-West Coast for Cardinal. “You have to work hard to avoid accidents and get that bottom-line payoff. Because your ultimate goal is to never get that phone call in the middle of the night to tell you that something has gone wrong.”

Big Deal

For the trucking industry in general, there is an average of 2.16 accidents for every million miles of travel. The average trucking accident, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, costs about $5,000 in physical damage alone – excluding litigation, workmans’ compensation, higher insurance premiums, and other expenses. A rate of 2.16 accidents then – at bare minimum – translates into $10,800 worth of costs per million miles.

Yet the total cost picture when it comes to highway accidents is much larger. According to the National Safety Council, some 44,000 Americans were killed and another 2.2-million injured in 1999 on U.S. highways – at a cost of over $192 billion in medical expenses, lost wages and vehicle damage.

Those numbers have convinced many companies to re-examine – and, in many cases, beef up – their safety programs, says David Hopps, group director of safety, health and security at Miami-based Ryder System Inc.

“Safety and health management can either be part of your company’s philosophy and strategy and be used as a competitive advantage – or it can be part of your company’s problems,” he says. “The opportunities are enormous, whether you are talking about the human side, the moral side, or the cold cash side.”

Yet to truly reap the benefits of a renewed focus on safety, the executive-level managers must be wholeheartedly involved, he contends.

“Your senior managers and executives in your organizations must visibly demonstrate commitment to leadership in safety, health and risk management – it’s an absolute must,” says Hopps. “The saying, ‘it starts at the top,’ is absolutely true in this situation – it starts at the top or it does not start at all. I can’t stress that enough. You can’t do it by voice-mail or memo, either, but only by being out there and being involved.”

Working With Drivers

Drivers are the key to improving on-highway safety, says Cardinal’s Caldemeyer. That’s why the fleet’s focus on safety begins during the hiring process.

“We screen our driver applicants very carefully, with safe driving records a number one priority,” she says.

Once Cardinal drivers are on board, they attend a ‘one-on-one’ safety briefing every month with a company manager, says Champaigne, covering a particular topic. There are three mandatory group meetings a year, when all the drivers sit down for a safety ‘refresher course,’ he notes.

For example, the fall/winter meetings review driving tips for snowy and icy weather and urge the drivers to especially look out for other motorists who are not driving appropriately for winter conditions.

There are also monetary awards tied into Cardinal’s safety efforts, adds Caldemeyer. “Our drivers are entitled to a quarterly bonus based in part on their safety record,” she explains.

That’s a tactic gaining a lot of ground throughout the trucking industry. For example, truckload giant J.B. Hunt Transport Services rewards drivers that attain the million-mile target with a cash bonus of $5,000. Drivers reaching two-million safe miles with the company receive $10,000, and drivers reaching three-million safe miles with the company receive $20,000. Currently, J.B. Hunt has 817 one-million mile drivers, 31 two-million mile drivers and two three-million mile drivers on their roster.

At Cardinal, drivers that hit the million-mile mark are treated to a special banquet, complete with awards and jackets.

The real key to improving and maintaining a fleet’s safety record, though, is the attitude of its drivers, says Tim Batross, Cardinal’s district manager.

“Attitude is the number-one attribute when it comes to safer driving,” he says. “We also believe closer interaction with the driver on a daily basis helps, too. Treating them as people, not as part of the tractor – letting them vent their frustrations on a daily basis – helps foster the ‘team’ concept. That way, we work together better to achieve not only safety goals but operational goals as well.”

That’s one of the toughest parts, Batross admits, because meshing safety into operational targets is difficult. For example, Cardinal’s contract with PetSmart means almost all the loads its trucks carry are consider ‘hot’ or time-sensitive. Once PetSmart’s goods are put into a warehouse, they must be moved to a store within 24 hours. Store deliveries must be made within a 30-minute ‘window’ as well. That increases the difficulty for the drivers, but it is still managed completely from a safety perspective, says Batross.

“All our loads are hot, but our drivers are not permitted to operate with logbook violations because of it,” he says. “We make sure the time pressure on them is not there, so they can do the best job in the safest manner.”

That ‘culture’ says Caldemeyer – focusing on safety and teamwork with drivers – is the key to reaching the million-mile accident-free mark and beyond.

“Most of the drivers I’ve known will drive safely regardless of incentives, because they are professionals,” she says. “But reinforcing the safety message with meetings, bonuses, etc., never hurts – it only helps the overall bottom line.”

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