Scott Achelpohl | FleetOwner
Panelists (from left) for the June 5 Safety as Retention Tool session at TCA's 41st annual Safety & Security Meeting: TCA President Jim Ward; Brent Nussbaum, CEO of Nussbaum Transportation; John Elliott, CEO of Load One; and Rob Penner, president and CEO of Bison Transport.

CEOs stress building and keeping a solid safety culture

June 9, 2022
TCA Safety & Security Meeting panelists tell how a culture of safety can help with retention—particularly within driver ranks, where supply is shrinking and turnover is high.

What makes the bigger difference for retention in a trucking fleet? A) safety programs or B) an established safety culture? At a meeting of trucking safety directors and stakeholders, fleet executives offered an emphatic answer to that question: Programs are programs but give them a “culture” of safety every time.

“Programs are not very effective themselves; you must have the culture,” said Brent Nussbaum, CEO of safety award-winning Nussbaum Transportation. He was a panelist during a June 5 discussion at the Truckload Carriers Association’s (TCA) Safety & Security Meeting in Nashville.

See also:  TCA reveals 2022 Best Fleets to Drive For

Hudson, Illinois-based Nussbaum Transportation was inducted into TCA’s Best Fleets to Drive For Hall of Fame earlier this year for its exemplary work environment for professional truck drivers and employees. Last year, the carrier won its seventh consecutive Best Fleets to Drive For award and won best overall in the large carrier category. Nussbaum also has won multiple other honors for its programs and culture of safety.

“The safety program is just a program,” Nussbaum added. “Culture engages the heart. You need to engage the heart of people before you can build the program. It has to start inside the organization, with the drivers. Otherwise, drivers look around and see that nobody inside supports this, so why in the world should [they] even get onboard? If you don’t have a culture, or you have the wrong culture, I would highly encourage you to look at the people around you, inside the organization.”

He continued: “Programs are great. We all use lots of products … different tools. They’re not very effective in and of themselves. What really makes them effective is the culture and how you bring those things together. Is the mentality a carrot or a stick when you look at safety systems? Is it a tool that’s used against the driver, or is it used for the driver? This ties into culture and into retention. If they understand what you’re doing is in their best interest, that we care about them, that we want to protect them while they’re on the road. It’s not about we want to ding you for doing something bad. That’s where culture really makes programs work.”

Rob Penner, Bison Transport’s president and CEO, said he remembers when he inherited a driver program that was known for “such erratic performance year-over-year.”

“We’d spent way too much money on accidents, and we were looking for a solution, but we didn’t understand what the problem was,” he remarked. “The problem was our safety program was just compliance-focused. That doesn’t get you what you’re looking for. It’s just a measure of somebody’s performance, but it doesn’t put people in the right mindset.”

See also:  Six ways to build a safety culture within your fleet

Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Bison, one of Canada’s largest trucking companies, has become a driver favorite and also has earned a place in TCA’s Best Fleets to Drive For Hall of Fame after taking the Best Fleets award 12 times. Last year, Bison won TCA’s National Fleet Safety Award Grand Prize and holds the highest safety rating available from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Canadian carrier also has won American Trucking Association’s National Fleet Safety President’s Trophy.

John Elliott, TCA chairman and CEO of Load One, said his company has heavily invested in technology—collision-avoidance and lane-departure systems and in-cab video—a driver education school, and even a driving simulator. “We are doing everything that we possibly can to mitigate any risk of an accident. Our driver scorecard is based on habits, not on whether you’re getting good fuel mileage.”

Taylor, Michigan-based Load One, one of the three largest premium transportation and expedited trucking companies in the U.S. and named an Innovator of the Year in 2019 and a Fleet to Watch by TCA and online truck driver trainer CarriersEdge in 2018, uses the Solera/Omnitracs SmartDrive video-based system to generate data on drivers’ speed- and space-management performance and lane-changing habits, Elliott said. As drivers build their performance scores, they get bonuses, he added.

“You can build a program, but you’ve got to teach your drivers that their skills and habits are what’s important to getting them home,” he said.

See also: Speed limiters divide truckload meeting safety stakeholders

Lytx also offers advice on the culture question

Commercial vehicle telematics manufacturer Lytx and its VP Del Lisk produced a list of six tips on how to build and maintain a strong fleet safety culture:

  • Make sure leadership is committed to safety.
  • Use data to measure and hold drivers accountable for safety.
  • Rely on new safety technologies to continuously improve.
  • Foster an open environment to discuss safety concerns.
  • Communicate clearly and effectively.
  • Show that the organization cares about the well-being of employees.

At TCA, much discussion also was focused on the dynamic—good and bad—between a fleet’s operations department and its safety personnel. Lytx's Lisk had a thought about that dynamic, too.

“In the transportation industry, there can be a tug of war between the operations department, tasked with getting things done, and the safety department, responsible for getting things done safely. But operations and safety in the trucking industry don’t have to be mutually exclusive.”

About the Author

Scott Achelpohl | Managing Editor

I'm back to the trucking and transportation track of my career after some time away freelancing and working to cover the branches of the U.S. military, specifically the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and the U.S. Coast Guard. I'm a graduate of the University of Kansas and the William Allen White School of Journalism there with several years of experience inside and outside business-to-business journalism. I'm a wordsmith by nature, and I edit FleetOwner magazine and our website as well as report and write all kinds of news that affects trucking and transportation.

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