Carrier commitment

June 1, 2006
By Mary Davis MOST tank truck safety seminars include at least one speaker who emphasizes the importance of upper management committing to a safety program in order

By Mary Davis

MOST tank truck safety seminars include at least one speaker who emphasizes the importance of upper management committing to a safety program in order for it to be successful.

Dayle Ann Coonfer and her son, Doug, owners of Cooney's Farm Services Ltd in High River, Alberta, Canada, have taken that philosophy to heart. “Safety is our number-one priority,” says Dayle Ann, company president.

Product transportation

The success of the safety program is evident in its recognition by the National Tank Truck Carriers that presented Cooney's with the 2005 Competitive Safety Grand Award, International, and the Personnel Safety Grand Award, International, for the less than five-million-mile class. It was the second consecutive year the carrier won the award.

Cooney's also has qualified with the Alberta, Canada, Motor Transport Association (AMTA)/Workers Compensation Board for its safety compliance program. The carrier was noted for having a program in place that monitors and reacts to health and safety issues as a result of in-house-developed policies and procedures. The program is audited each year by AMTA and every second year by the Canadian Chemical Producers Association (CCPA) as part of the Responsible Care program.

The carrier transports resin, catalyst, and wax that are used in plywood (about 40% of the business). The rest of the operation includes hauling various edible oils, vitamin B-12 and molasses used in animal feeds, fracing fluid for Canada's oil and gas industry, and some foodgrade alcohol used in beverages.

One of the more unusual services this year was hauling potable water for two weeks to a Robin Williams movie production in Alberta. “Our driver said the last time he saw Robin Williams, the star was wearing a Cooney's cap,” Doug said, laughing.

Primarily a Western Canada carrier, about 39% of the business (by mileage) is hauled in the United States.

“We have had US authority for 30 years,” says Dayle Ann. “My husband and I started a trucking company in 1972 and pretty much ran it by the seat of our pants until Doug joined us in the management of the business and began emphasizing safety.”

(Her husband, Keith, died in 2000. His nickname of Cooney explains the company name.)

As the carrier grew, eventually expanding into bulk products, an opportunity arose for Cooney's to become one shipper's core carrier.

“The shipper had been transporting product in IBCs and totes and decided to go to bulk,” says Doug.

As part of qualifying, the shipper required a third-party auditor to examine Cooney's safety records and programs.

Program policies

“They told us that we weren't documenting our operation properly,” says Doug. “We didn't really have an outline for a safety program, but what we were doing was pretty much what they were looking for, except for documentation.”

After the shipper's safety audit, the carrier hired a consultant and set to work building a viable program. As for the new business, it soon grew from one job a week to four each week.

Today, the safety program monitors and reacts to health and safety issues, using policies and procedures that were developed specifically for the operation.

“The policy covers all job descriptions and expectations with required training and procedures,” says Doug. “We don't stop there, though. We believe in updating the program in ongoing reviews, and that includes vehicles, documentation, facilities, customer sites, and employees.

“After each AMTA and CCPA audit, we take the recommendations seriously, and see that they are complied with,” Doug says.

As just one small but important example of the program, the company requires drivers to sign on the company's policy of seat belt use at all times. “That's just a way to avoid complacency,” says Rod Lebbert, the carrier's business manager. “We want them not only to drive, but to be constantly aware of their surroundings.”

Wheel checks

To reinforce the safety emphasis, the carrier rewards qualifying drivers with a $350 (Canadian) quarterly bonus for maintaining a record with no accidents. Those that qualify for four consecutive quarters take home an additional bonus of $350. They also receive $100 each year for service to the company.

“We try to vary the incentives to encourage drivers,” says Dayle Ann.

In an effort to accelerate pre-trip and other driver-conducted inspections and increase safety, Doug made the decision to install wheel checks. The devices are small plastic indicators attached to each lug nut on the tank trailer wheels. If a bolt is loose, the devices move off place.

“Drivers can tell at a glance the status of lug nuts when they check the tires,” Doug says.

Driver training, under Doug's direction, includes company policies, as well as US Department of Transportation and Transport Canada regulations. Instruction also includes defensive driving techniques and hazardous materials handling.

J J Keller furnishes a program for training drivers to handle tractor-trailer rigs in bad weather. Typically, new hires spend at least two years driving through mountains in the summer before being sent out in harsher months.

Prospective drivers take a road test before they are considered for employment. If they meet the company's requirements, they begin training and then are added to the driver pool. About a third of the company's 19 drivers are home every second night, and the other two-thirds are out six to 10 days. Four of the drivers are owner-operators and two are on call for part-time work.

Since safety runs hand in hand with security, Cooney's developed a program to control access to documentation, equipment, and employees.

Maintenance program

“Our equipment yard is fenced and locked, and our facilities all have electronic security,” Doug says. “Vehicles are equipped with Magtec security systems and have GPS (global positioning systems) units from Qualcomm. We also use plastic seals on empty tankers and cable seals when the trailers are loaded.

“Certain procedures known only to our drivers and dispatch are used for driver identity confirmation when they are over the road. An emergency alert is part of the satellite communication program, as well as an electronic messaging system. Drivers still like to use cell phones, so they often will call us after we send them a message.”

Keeping the equipment in good working order is another aspect of the safety program. Vehicles are maintained to Alberta regulations and in accordance with Canadian National Safety Code Standards, as well as any manufacturer's recommendations for service.

Doug oversees all maintenance records and informs dispatcher and mechanics when a unit is to be scheduled for service. The forms from daily vehicle observance are used to schedule repairs. Information is copied in the office, attached to work orders, and then maintenance and/or repairs are scheduled.

Power units receive preventive maintenance every 7,500 miles, and fluids are changed at 15,000-mile intervals.

Tank trailers are serviced weekly, including grease, tire pressure and tread depth check, exterior wash, and visual inspection.

The three-bay shop near High River is a licensed Canadian CVIP (Commercial Vehicle Impoundment Program) inspection facility and cargo tank (United States) testing and inspections and B620 (Canada) repair facility. Cooney's leases some of its power units from PacLease, which has certified the shop to handle warranty maintenance.

In addition to the maintenance facility, Cooney's has an in-house-constructed tank wash facility with Chemdet Fury 400 spinners. The single rack has a vat-style system with three 250-gallon vats, two for fresh water and one for detergent. A Fristam two-inch stainless steel pump drives the equipment.

Typical cycles include a hot water flush for six minutes at 150°F (190°F for 20 minutes for a kosher wash), a hot water rinse for 10 minutes, and a cold water rinse for eight minutes. Tanks are either blown dry or air-dried.

“The climate here is so dry that we don't have the problems with humidity,” says Doug.

Tank wash employees also check tires and wheel hub oil while the vehicles are at the facility.

Power units

Craig Ellice, wash rack supervisor, and Owen Tipton, shop foreman, are certified for cargo tank inspection. Ellice is charged with internal, leak, and pressure testing while Tipton handles external visual and upper coupler.

Thickness testing is outsourced to Western Inspection, but Doug trains Western Inspection personnel to qualify them for confined space entry procedures.

In all this mix is the fleet. Power units include company-owned Peterbilts and leased Freightliners for a total of 17 tractors. They have either Caterpillar 475-horsepower or Detroit Diesel 470-horsepower engines. Eaton Fuller supplies 18-speed transmissions. Tractors have four-way locking differentials for use on ice and snow, as well as Proheat Products Inc engine heaters for cold temperatures. Chelsea PTOs and Drum blowers are mounted on the tractors for product handling.

There are 30 tank trailers in the fleet — both DOT407s and MC307s — all stainless steel, single-compartment units equipped with Fort Vale and Girard pressure-relief vents and Betts valves and domelids.

Trailers are insulated and have in-transit heat to meet product temperature demands. Doug recently spec'd an in-transit jacket around the sump elbow to further insure proper temperatures are maintained.

Trailers typically are supplied by Polar Corp, Beall Corp, Brenner Tank Inc, and Tremcar Inc, and most have Hendrickson Intraax suspensions and MeritorWABCO antilock braking systems.

The focus on well-maintained equipment is a significant part of the success of the carrier's safety program, Doug points out. “But it takes more than that to insure we are operating safely,” he adds. “It requires all of us being committed to the program, and that especially applies to those of us who are in the role of leadership.”