NATIONAL TANK TRUCK CARRIERS assembled three industry executives to examine a variety of safety-related issues in a C-Level panel discussion during NTTC’s Tank Truck Safety & Security Council annual meeting June 3-5 in San Antonio, Texas.
Offering insight were: Dean Kaplan, NTTC chairman and chief executive officer/executive vice-president of K-Limited Carrier Ltd; Harold Sumerford Jr, chief executive officer of J&M Tank Lines Inc; and Hans Schaupp, president of LCL Bulk Transport Inc.
The panel was sponsored by Omnitracs LLC and was moderated by Mark Bauckman, Omnitracs director of sales.
Q: Let’s talk about how you regularly interact with your safety organization. Maybe some of the key expectations you have. What do you see in a truly exceptional safety leader?
Kaplan: It’s like a wheel. It’s one spoke in that wheel. It can never splinter. It has to stay extremely strong. Our director of safety heads our regulatory compliance. In small organizations, we wear a lot of hats. To maintain profitability and to give back to our employees and drivers, we have to wear a lot of hats. We like it that way. Operations and safety are married. We all know the driver issues, so that goes on every day of every week of every month of every quarter for the entire year. Our VP and general manager are involved with operations through classroom training. Our extension of the safety department is the driver trainers. Do I get all wrapped up in the minutiae of it? It kind of depends on what it is. Relative to personal injury or high-dollar damage or environmental exposure, absolutely. But you have to have confidence in your safety department in a smaller company, working with your insurance providers and their safety departments and the extension of it.
Sumerford: At J&M, we have an open-door policy. The CEO is directly responsible for safety, and the safety department reports to me. I’m the only one in the company who can override the safety department, and that is rarely done. I traveled last year 200-some nights, so my safety department has to reach out to me a lot of times. They have to know when to call. That’s no big issue, but as far as me having day-to-day dealings with the safety department, that’s extremely difficult because of my travel. We have conference calls and quarterly reviews. We have continuous improvement. We have a saying that isn’t ours: ‘We never let it rest until the good gets better and the better gets best.’
Schaupp: Safety sets the tone with the whole company. Safety trumps everything. It’s also important from my perspective to empower the departments, and get out of the way. That doesn’t mean I don’t interact, but I let them use their talents and knowledge and help our business succeed in what we’re doing. The safety person I look for is somebody who can make a tough decision. A lot of decision making they’re put into is very challenging, but they have to make that decision. We value somebody who can think out of the box and use technology.
Q: With technology comes data. I think there’s a sense of being overwhelmed with the amount of data available. Speaking from a C-Level perspective, what kind of data is most important, and how do you make sense of the data without getting down to minutiae?
Kaplan: I know we monitor and post our CSA scores. That’s critically important. The shipping community looks to that type of data. We’re working hard at the Washington DC level to try to level the playing field with CSA (the Federal Motor Carrier Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program) but we’re a company that believes CSA is good thing. There are parts of CSA that are very strong to make that playing field level. We take pride in our numbers. All our tankers at the primary location are looked at from a maintenance perspective every weekend. It’s worth the investment to do that on a weekly basis.
Sumerford: We want to know about exceptions and trends. We do bring in every year a couple of smart kids out of college and put them in front of the data. You’d be surprised what a physicist or engineer can do who doesn’t know anything about trucking. We’ll do trend analysis and things like that. Our safety department is involved in that side. But when we’re looking at the safety ratio or anything with accidents, that’s kind of like an autopsy. It’s dead and over with. I’m looking for the leading indicator, not the lagging indicator. Where can we find new stuff to keep an accident from happening, using technology? We try to take a holistic approach. We go in and first determine what a risk is, and say, ‘OK, drivers, we need you to buy in on this. Then we have to go back and look at management activity where management was actively engaging drivers on this idea. We found by doing that, it gets them where they incentivize to do it. That’s the beginning. Are we very good at it? It’s something we’re working on.
Schaupp: With the overflow of data that comes out, we went about this with creating a driver scorecard. And that data really drives a lot of the things we look at. We have six or seven metrics that we look at on a daily basis. Drivers are rewarded based on metrics and how they perform. It’s another tool to reach out to drivers and make it a coachable moment. It gets down to the core. There is interaction based on whether we need it.
Q: I love the conversations when individuals are sharing best practices. Somebody will say to a driver, “What are you doing? How are you achieving that?” It drives better performance without a lot of management intervention.
Kaplan: I‘ve been around it a long time, and you hire your incidents. You hire your problems. If you maintain your culture and your safety department from day one … We all know it’s hard to find drivers, but we will not lower our values and our culture. I think you know what you’re getting. We have 30-, 60-, 90-, 120-day reviews of our drivers. To do our jobs properly, we’re careful to protect and maintain our company culture.
Schaupp: We do a pre-screen of drivers to make sure they can physically do the job. That’s leaving out a lot of drivers we would have probably hired in the past. Changing and doing it differently has helped us avoid hiring people who would have become worker comp cases.
Q: With third parties, such as legal advisors, insurance companies, and technology partners, how and when do you pull those folks in?
Kaplan: We learned a long time ago from lots of mistakes. If you want to drill down into incidents or environmental issues, a company of our size, from a legal standpoint must have enough relationship and partnership with the insurance provider that they are going to guide management. We certainly are very involved. It isn’t just picking up that phone and reporting the incident. We stay involved with those folks from A to Z. As far as technology goes, we continue to reach out and see where we can be better.
Schaupp: With our driver scorecard, a lot of direction came from our third-party supplier. They helped us build the scorecard and focus in on what’s important for us moving forward. Also, we had one of our providers come in and observe how our tank washers washed tanks. That created suggestions for how drivers safely get up on the top of the tank. So we’re always interacting and looking to become a better company. ♦