Back-to-Back Trophies

A strong dedication to safety makes Groendyke Transport a winner every day

WINNING back-to-back Outstanding Performance Trophies for tank truck safety is no ordinary achievement. It takes hard work and a total commitment to safety to improve a program that is already recognized industrywide as superb.

Just a handful of tank truck carriers have pulled off this feat over the 52 years since the award was established through National Tank Truck Carriers Inc. Groendyke Transport Inc, Enid, Oklahoma, now has reached this level of excellence twice — first in 1990 and 1991 and then in 1999 and 2000. In the process, Groendyke Transport became the first six-time winner of the Outstanding Performance Trophy.

“It's remarkable that twice now we have won back-to-back Outstanding Performance Trophies,” says Gregory R Hodgen, vice-president. “It's a real testament to the safety dedication of our employees. You can't just tell people to be safe. They must want it themselves. It's part of their pride in helping to make Groendyke the best in the business.

“It's also remarkable that we managed to improve our safety performance as much as we did over the past year. Total, companywide safety awareness is the key.”

Pioneer Spirit

Steve Niswander, vice-president of safety & compliance, adds that safety awareness has been a key to the company's success for seven decades. Employees are constantly thinking about safety, and the success they achieved in the past continues to build on itself.

“Groendyke today is standing on the shoulders of the people who founded this industry,” says Niswander, who was named NTTC safety director of the year for the second year in a row. “Safety is so deeply ingrained that it is what comes to mind first when you think about Groendyke Transport.”

The past successes go back all the way to 1932 when Groendyke Transport was established by Harold Groendyke, one of the pioneers of the industry. “For my father, it was never acceptable to operate in any way other than safe,” says John Groendyke, company president. “He believed that operating safely was the most profitable way to do business. He said that there was never a load so hot that it wouldn't cool off upside down in a ditch.”

The safety drive was motivated in part by respect for the drivers and the fact that the Groendyke name was on every tractor and trailer. These motivations are still as much of a driving force today.

The Groendyke way of operating means that every effort is made to give the driver as much support as possible to make him as successful as possible. “Groendyke drivers are respected as professionals,” John Groendyke says. “We try to give them the best tools available to do their jobs.”

This includes the Logistics Control Center (LCC) in Houston, Texas. The principal objective of the LCC is to coordinate chemical transport operations to achieve the best possible efficiency, according to Bobby Hoehler, LCC director. This means keeping trailers loaded and drivers busy.

Each of three load planners in the center is assigned a geographic region in the United States. They have responsibility over any chemical load that doesn't begin and end in the same geographic region. The load planners are connected to the Groendyke terminals by a computer network running TMW Systems' PowerSuite client server.

An international coordinator primarily deals with Mexico operations. “Our goal is to get our trailers back into the United States in less than four days,” Hoehler says. “Our partner, Trans-Lesa, helps us meet that goal by running teams.”

In addition to load coordination, the LCC handles customer service for the chemical operations. Telemarketing is provided, which is especially important in areas where Groendyke Transport lacks terminals.

Terminal Dispatch

The LCC has not displaced local terminal dispatch operations, though. The terminals are an important part of the dispatch and load acceptance functions, according to Groendyke. One reason is that local dispatchers have an opportunity to build a closer relationship with the drivers.

Groendyke Transport currently has 40 terminals in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Arkansas, Kansas, Illinois, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. Assigned to those terminals are more than 800 drivers. The Groendyke Transport fleet consists of 850 tractors and 1,500 trailers.

As much as anything, the terminals and the people operating those facilities are in place to provide support and make the driver's job easier. Dispatchers are taught that they are one of the first lines of defense for safety.

“We teach dispatchers that they can say no to something that is not in the driver's best interest or something that jeopardizes safety, Groendyke says. “This is one way they share in the ownership of success at the terminal and the company as a whole.”

Driver Advocates

Every terminal has a driver advocate, someone the drivers trust and can talk to. This is part of a companywide effort to ensure good communication, and it is a crucial element in the safety program.

“We did some surveys over the past year, and we found that we weren't communicating as well as we needed to with our drivers,” Hodgen says. “We've worked hard to fix that. We want our drivers to know that they are respected as professionals.

“We have a lot of good people working for us, and we want to retain them. These veteran drivers really are the key to our success. Among other things, they set an example and provide leadership for new drivers.”

With the steady growth that the carrier has achieved over the years, the demand for new drivers remains strong. Groendyke Transport prefers to hire drivers with three years or more over-the-road tractor-trailer experience, but an industrywide shortage means many applicants are coming in with less time behind the wheel.

Regardless of experience, newly hired drivers go through seven to 14 days of initial training that includes classroom time with videotaped instruction and on-the-job practice. They are tested after each training module, and they must score 100%.

Hands-on training is a big part of the program. Anyone who will operate a product pump on the job goes through pump school. Refresher training is held every six months.

Training is provided at the terminal. Driver trainers handle much of the training, but their work doesn't end there. They also serve as mentors to help provide support and encouragement as a new driver begins his career at Groendyke Transport. Mentors also help new drivers find out where they fit best in the company.

“We try to make it possible for them to love their jobs,” Niswander says. “It's important to fit the work to their likes and dislikes. We're diversified enough to offer more choices.”

Throughout the initial training process, new drivers are with Groendyke Transport training and field safety coordinators. The training personnel, terminal manager, and director of training must sign off before any new driver is sent out on his own.

The safety supervision doesn't stop with the initial training. Retraining is scheduled every three years at a minimum, and defensive driving is stressed along with speed awareness. Refresher sessions are conducted anytime the safety department believes there is a need.

A variety of incentives are used to promote safe driving, but one of the most popular is the President's Million-Mile Club. To date, 175 drivers have qualified for the club by achieving a million miles at Groendyke Transport without a preventable accident. Twelve current drivers have two million miles, and three have reached the three-million-mile mark.

Qualifiers receive an etched crystal trophy, a watch, and $1,000. Running an average of 100,000 miles a year, it takes a Groendyke Transport driver about 10 years to qualify for the award.

Local drivers, such as those in gasoline distribution, have difficulty reaching the mileage goals. The carrier now recognizes their achievements when they reach 10 years with no preventable accidents. “These drivers handle a lot of loads, but they don't run enough miles to hit the million mark in 10 years,” Niswander says.

Terminal Safety

Terminal personnel are not left out of the safe driving effort. When a terminal achieves a cumulative total of one million miles without a preventable accident, spill or similar incident that requires remediation, or preventable worker compensation claim with lost work days, everyone employed at the terminal receives $100. The carrier also presents a trophy to the terminal and holds a banquet for all of the employees there.

The terminal in Hutchinson, Kansas, has about 28 drivers and has passed nine million miles without an accident or incident. Four terminals have hit six million miles. The terminal in Tucumcari, New Mexico, is the smallest in the system and has reached five million miles.

Incentives aren't the only reason for the safety achievements at the terminals. Groendyke Transport has a very active quality auditing program. Each terminal is audited at least annually as part of the carrier's ISO 9002 program.

“We go over every aspect of terminal safety during an audit,” says Gene Brown, executive vice-president. “We always ask ourselves if this facility is a place where we would want to work.

“We focus on areas that need attention — such as slips, trips, and falls in the terminal — and we determine the resources needed to make the operation safer. We never stop looking at the safety side of this business.”

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