THIS HAS been an all-around winning year for safety at Carbon Express Inc in Wharton, New Jersey. The tank truck carrier was recognized on multiple fronts for its safety program and driver excellence.
Most notably, Carbon Express earned the National Tank Truck Carriers Outstanding Safety Performance Trophy in the Sutherland Division for carriers below 15 million miles. The carrier had a zero DOT reportable accident frequency in calendar year 2015.
John Bowlby, Carbon Express director of safety & human resources, was named NTTC Safety Professional of the Year in the Sutherland Division. Bowlby also was honored as Safety Professional of the Year by the New Jersey Motor Truck Association (NJMTA).
For the third year in a row, a Carbon Express driver was named NJMTA Driver of the Year. The latest honor went to Carbon Express Inc driver Anthony LaGrasta, a veteran driver with 2.03 million miles of accident-free driving. In 2014 Jacobus Hansen was selected for the honor, and last year the NJMTA Driver of the Year was John Gaddy.
“This has been a great year for all of us at Carbon Express,” says Steve Rush, president and founder of Carbon Express. “Years of hard work by everyone at this company finally paid off. The NTTC Outstanding Safety Performance Trophy really took us to the pinnacle of tank truck fleet safety.
“We are so proud of the people in this company who helped win this trophy. That is why we took three drivers with us to the trophy presentation in San Diego (California), and it is why we have invited all of our drivers to come to our main office to be photographed with the trophy. We plan to take the trophy to all of our terminals. We even took it to an open house at a local truck driving school, where it generated a lot of interest.
“We have come so far with this company over the past 30 or so years. Safety was not a key priority in the beginning, but it is today. We have gone from letting drivers ignore the rules to being a safety leader.”
Rush started Carbon Express in 1983 after 14 years as an owner-operator hauling for a number of carriers, including Matlack Inc. Today, the company runs 59 tractors and 110 tank trailers. The fleet also includes a number of flatbeds.
Operations are conducted from nine fleet locations in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Texas. Dispersed among the terminals are 55 drivers—company employees and owner-operators.
The carrier operates primarily in the eastern half of the United States, and the average trip length is 335 miles. Liquid bulk cargoes consist of chemicals, lubricants, and compressed gases.
“We have a mix of business that includes some longhaul,” Rush says. “We have some dedicated business. We’re still hauling some fracing chemicals in the oil shale areas in Ohio and Pennsylvania. We believe that business will pick up over the next year or two.
“Our overall load count was off over the last seven to eight months, but liquid bulk activity has picked up. We’ve got some new business that is keeping our drivers busier. Still, I’m a bit worried that the coming fall could be slow in some parts of our market.”
Carbon Express uses TMW software to help manage dispatch operations. Even with the automation, dispatchers devote at least two hours a day to load planning. A key reason is the carrier’s passion to prevent fatigued driving through efficient scheduling and routing.
“Although the law allows a driver to work a total of 14 hours a day, we do our best to keep our drivers to 12 hours or less per shift,” Rush says. “If the 16-hour provision is ever needed, we require root cause analysis to see why it was necessary. We also try to keep our drivers on the same runs and routes as much as possible.
“Driver sleep patterns are important and are discussed during our daily planning meeting. We believe sleep patterns play a critical role in safety. We try to schedule work shifts in accordance with a driver’s normal sleep pattern.
“We are adamant that our drivers run legal hours. To that end, we adopted electronic driver logs a little more than six years ago. We also got rid of all company-owned sleeper tractors, and replaced them with daycabs.
“When our driver is on the road, he stays in a clean hotel. It is an additional operation cost, but the benefits outweigh the dollars. Everyone knows how hard it is today for a truck driver with a sleeper tractor to find a legal safe place to park for the night. Our drivers have CLC cards that cover hotels in 49 US states and Canada. They can even use a phone app to find the most convenient hotel.
“Once there, they can relax and get a better night’s sleep compared with being stuck in a sleeper for 10 hours. They can take better care of their health by using the workout facilities at the hotel. They can even get a free breakfast in the morning. In short, we believe our well-rested driver will be safer out on the road.”
Driver hours of service are managed with Omnitracs on-board hardware that is linked to the TMW fleet management system. The Omnitracs units send management alerts anytime a driver triggers a stability or hard braking report. The system also tracks over-speeding, fuel consumption, PTO usage, and out-of-gear time.
Stability and hard braking alerts go directly to Bowlby, who reviews each event and meets with the driver to discuss specific issues. “These are detailed reports,” Bowlby says. “The first thing we check is vehicle speed. If it has dropped to 0 miles per hour, the chances are we’ve had an accident or rollover. Exact map coordinates are put into Google Earth so we can see what the driver sees in regard to road signs and the type of road the incident occurred on.”
The focus on driver well-being and safety has helped Carbon Express achieve a relatively low turnover rate of 25%-30%. It also seems to be playing a role in attracting younger drivers.
“We have a growing number of new drivers in the 25-year-old range,” Bowlby says. “In the past three years, we have reduced our average driver age by more than 10 years. We’re using word of mouth to find many of these younger candidates. We’re having some success attracting military veterans now that New Jersey accepts military driving experience as one of the qualifications for a CDL (commercial driver license).
“As our company president and owner points out, he started his truck driving career right out of the Air Force at the age of 21 with literally no driver training. If we have someone with some truck driver training, we add to that until we are satisfied that our trainee is ready to go on his own.
“We take time to get to know applicants. We believe safety starts when we first interview a potential driver. Hiring right means we look for someone who is mature and understands that driving a truck is a very serious occupation and that safety must be first and foremost at all times.”
Ideally, Carbon Express wants someone with at least two years of truck driving experience and good tenure with previous employers. Applicants also need a valid CDL with hazardous materials and tank endorsements and a TWIC card.
A driver’s home location is another consideration. “We believe that getting a driver home as much as possible adds to job satisfaction,” Bowlby says. “We strategically hire drivers who live near the center point of our primary traffic lanes. In most cases, this makes it possible for drivers to be home at a minimum of every other night even when the length of haul is up to 1,000 miles.”
A newly selected driver starts with a two-day orientation at the home office in Wharton. That is followed by at least two weeks of on-the-job training with an experienced driver at the terminal where the new hire will be based.
Because it is a key part of safety and operations at Carbon Express, the Omnitracs system gets plenty of attention during the orientation. In addition to electronic logs, drivers learn to use the Omnitracs units for pre-trip and post-trip inspections.
Drivers are told that they must send a text message to the corporate office to request an electronic driver log modification and only two top managers have the authority to make updates. The carrier is very restrictive on the modifications that will be considered.
Vehicle and cargo security are addressed during the orientation. “We want our drivers to be able to effectively protect themselves, the equipment, and the loads,” Bowlby says.
The safety message delivered during the orientation is reinforced with regular reminders. “We have to fight complacency,” Bowlby says. “To that end, we send out newsletters twice a month, either printed or by email. We constantly call attention to safety issues.”
During on-the-job training, drivers receive detailed instruction on the fleet equipment. For company drivers, the training covers the carrier’s Volvo and Peterbilt tractors.
Carbon Express specifies 405-horsepower Volvo engines and 430-hp PACCAR engines. Automated transmissions were spec’d in the newest tractors—the iShift in the Volvos and the Fuller UltraShift in the Petes. The carrier selected a 6x2 configuration for the newest tractors, including Volvos new Adaptive Loading System.
On the tank trailer side, Carbon Express runs a variety of equipment, most of it pre-owned. Multi-compartment trailers make up about 40% of the fleet and are used primarily for transporting lubricants.
When adding pre-owned equipment, Carbon Express makes modifications as needed to enhance safety. This has included moving catwalks on some trailers to the street side and installing safety ladders. The carrier also adds tire inflation systems to some trailers.
“We do everything we can to make our fleet and our drivers as safe as possible,” Rush says. “Doing that leads to happy customers and a safe and successful trucking company with a winning program.” ♦