Six wins

June 1, 2006
SIX Outstanding Performance Trophies in the National Tank Truck Carriers' Tank Truck Safety Contest in three decades (spanning two centuries, no less),

SIX Outstanding Performance Trophies in the National Tank Truck Carriers' Tank Truck Safety Contest in three decades (spanning two centuries, no less), under two different corporate names, and with three different safety directors. It's an achievement that should make any tank truck carrier proud.

There is no doubt that the managers and employees of Newbury, Ohio-based Distribution Technologies Inc (DistTech) are thrilled beyond measure. They worked as a team to bring home the latest Outstanding Performance Trophy. They believe they proved that their company remains at least as committed to safety as it was in 1987 when it won its first Outstanding Performance Trophy under the Manfredi Motor Transit Company name.

“We didn't win this sixth trophy by chance,” says Richard J Manfredi, DistTech chief executive officer and president. “We don't have simply a safety program. What we have built here is a safety process. Safety is an on-going effort, and we communicate that to everyone who works at this company. Safety is part of all new-business discussions. We want to work with customers who value safety. We don't want our processes compromised.

“While our safety process isn't built around winning trophies, this award is very meaningful. We equate the Outstanding Performance Trophy to the Lombardi Trophy (given to the winner of the National Football League's Super Bowl). The NTTC competition is the tank truck industry's Super Bowl for safety.

“Winning this sixth Outstanding Performance Trophy validated our belief that we kept the safety core of our company when we changed the name from Manfredi Motor Transit to DistTech in 2004. We haven't lost our focus on the fundamentals despite the changing nature of the business.”

Latest trophy

The tank truck carrier earned its most recent Outstanding Performance Trophy with an accident frequency of 0.320 accidents per million miles for 2005. DistTech also was the Grand Award winner in the 36-50 million miles class of the NTTC 2005 Competitive Safety Contest, and it received the Merit Award in that mileage category for personnel safety. The carrier also earned a 15-year certificate in the 2005 Improvement Contest.

DistTech Safety Director Randy Vaughn was honored as NTTC's 2005 Tank Truck Safety Director of the Year. Vaughn has spent a lengthy career with the carrier, starting in 1988. He left for seven years to work for another trucking company, but returned in 2000 to work in operations and safety. Vaughn was named safety director of the tank truck carrier in 2003.

“This Outstanding Performance Trophy was a major accomplishment for the whole DistTech team,” Vaughn says. “This win means a lot because it came under a new regime at DistTech. Many new drivers and managers came on board since we won the last trophy in 1997. This is recognition that everybody at this company bought into the safety process we put in place.”

Vaughn is the latest in a series of distinguished safety directors, according to Manfredi. “The program we have today really started with Jim Hooper, who came to us in 1984 from the safety department at Coastal Tank Lines Inc,” he says. “Just three years later, we won our first Outstanding Performance Trophy. Ironically, he left Manfredi Motor Transit before the trophy was presented at the 1988 NTTC annual conference.”

On hand to accept the trophy was Fred Sajewski, who stepped into the safety director role and went on to become one of the most distinguished safety executives in the tank truck industry. He collected four more Outstanding Performance Trophies (1992, 1993, 1995, and 1997). “Fred passed away in 2005, but he's still with us in spirit, and the safety framework he built is still in place,” Manfredi says.

Manfredi adds that each of the six Outstanding Performance Trophies brought plenty of excitement, but the first was the most surprising. “We were relatively new as an active member of NTTC, and we had just begun to assemble what we felt was a good program,” he says. “The second win was the most satisfying because it gave us validation that our first Outstanding Performance Trophy wasn't a fluke. We knew we had something good going.”

Next level

Today, the safety process is being taken to the next level by one of the industry's most experienced and dedicated management teams. Along with Vaughn, the safety management group includes Mark Kadlec, vice-president of human resources & safety; Mark Ritts, environmental health & safety manager; and Bill Skomrock Jr, manager of safety.

Also contributing to the safety focus are key executives who have overseen the effort to transform DistTech into a dedicated contract carrier that specializes in providing very customized services. They include John Rakoczy, vice-president of operations; John Hazenfield, chief information officer; Craig Cullinan, vice-president of sales & business development; and Donna Mintus, chief financial officer.

“We're following a business model that helps all of us maintain the safety focus,” Rakoczy says. “Through dedicated contract carriage we've achieved a collective recognition of safety with our shipper partners.”

The leadership team manages an operation that includes 429 drivers (29 of them contract operators), 450 tractors, and 650 tank trailers. The fleet is dispersed among 27 terminals, serving customers across the United States and Canada. Most of the terminals have at least limited maintenance capabilities, and four run full-service tank wash racks. A fifth cleaning facility is dedicated to intermediate bulk containers.

“Our most recent facility additions were terminals in Phoenix (Arizona) and Tulsa (Oklahoma),” Rakoczy says. “More terminals will be added during 2006 due to growth driven by value-added services.”

Fleet management

Fleet operations are conducted with the help of TMW software, which monitors a variety of safety and quality performance factors. Safety-related aspects of the software include a macro to identify unsafe delivery sites.

“This is where our partnership with our customers really pays off,” Rakoczy says. “Once informed of a problem, our customers take steps to fix it. This can range from cleaning up the delivery site to reengineering the layout.

“Good communication is another aspect of the partnership. The TMW software, combined with Qualcomm satellite communications and tracking, ensures that we can provide our customers with up-to-the-minute status reports on their shipments.”

Rakoczy adds that the satellite tracking and communication system also plays a role in the safety effort and accounts for part of the roughly $6500 that DistTech invests in safety technology in every tractor in the fleet. Safety equipment includes the Eaton Vorad collision avoidance system, DAWN Automotive Video Inc sideview cameras, Attention Technology Inc driver fatigue monitors, Eaton UltraShift automated transmissions, and plenty of mirrors.

“It's a significant investment, but we are seeing a good payback,” Rakoczy says. “For instance, lane-change accidents have virtually disappeared.”

Good drivers

Technology means nothing, though, without good drivers. The carrier has focused on building one of the most professional driver teams in the industry. To that end, the Outstanding Performance Trophies have been a powerful recruiting tool.

“Quite a few truck drivers contacted us after the latest trophy was announced and said they were interested in driving for us,” Vaughn says. “People want to be part of a winning team.”

Basic driver qualifications at DistTech call for someone at least 23 years old with a minimum of three years of verifiable over-the-road truck driving experience. Hazmat experience is preferred, and the candidate must hold a valid commercial driver license with tanker and hazardous materials endorsements. The applicant can't have had a chargeable accident in the past 12 months.

For the most part, DistTech is holding to those basic hiring requirements despite an industry wide shortage of truck drivers. The carrier has developed a program to bring in a limited number of recent graduates from truck driving schools.

“With few exceptions, we hold to our basic hiring requirements for virtually all applicants,” Kadlec says. “The exceptions are a handful of novice drivers fresh out of truck driving school who have demonstrated a strong aptitude for driving and a willingness to learn. They must finish in the top 10% of their class. We're working with one driving school in Ohio to put together a tanker segment.

“We've hired about 10 of these drivers over the past 2Ω years, and they are all still with us. We start them on non-hazardous loads and keep them there until our driver instructors are satisfied that they are ready for the hazmat shipments that account for a majority of our business. It usually takes three to six months. We try to bring these drivers on board during the times of the year when driving conditions are best.”

Training program

Regardless of experience, all newly hired drivers receive the same initial orientation, which lasts eight days. New hires with little or no tanker experience receive up to six weeks of on-the-job training. Most of the time is spent with the certified driver trainers assigned to each terminal. New hires remain on probation for 90 days following the initial training.

Instruction starts with a battery of lessons and tests in the TREAD-1 training program from Technology Institute Inc. The interactive computer-based program consists of 32 lessons tailored to the DistTech business. Each lesson lasts about an hour and ends with a test. Drivers must score 100%, and they repeat the lesson until they achieve that score. The TREAD-1 program also is used for remedial training after accidents or incidents.

Accident and incident prevention are recurring themes throughout the orientation and initial on-the-job training. Even cellular telephones get attention. DistTech policy states that cell phone use is prohibited anytime a vehicle is in motion.

During the initial orientation, drivers learn that the carrier has zero tolerance for accidents and incidents. They are briefed on the risk and resource management program from Volant Systems LLC. “We use the Volant process to promote discussion and better communication with our drivers,” Kadlec says.

Tractors and trailers used by DistTech have some sophisticated product handling systems, and certified driver trainers ensure that their students fully understand how to operate the equipment. Training includes a custom-produced video that details all of the different unloading equipment in the fleet. One segment of the video focuses on the dedicated trailers used for concrete admixtures.

Driver accountability

All drivers (regardless of experience) are held accountable for the way they operate the equipment. Check rides under DistTech's Safe Ride Audit program are scheduled at random at each terminal. The fleet also has a Safe Truck Audit program to assess the condition of the vehicle, permits and other documents, and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Drivers and their vehicles aren't the sole focus of the safety program, by any means. Terminals (including repair shops and wash racks) are audited at least annually, according to Ritts. Auditors check confined space procedures, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act training, and the condition of wash rack hoses and PPE.

Quarterly safety meetings at each terminal include all workers. Safety officials cover safe work habits for all departments. They use the Critical Crash Program developed in conjunction with Great West Casualty Co to focus on specific issues, such as road rage. The quarterly meetings also are a time to review recent incidents, regulatory changes and issues, and driver log violations.

DistTech is a participant in the rollover prevention campaign launched in 2005 by National Tank Truck Carriers and JJ Keller & Associates. Monthly updates on rollover prevention are posted at all of the terminals, and all drivers are required to participate.

Awards, but not cash bonuses, are used to encourage safe performance throughout the company. Terminals compete for an annual safety award, and the Ranch Cucamonga facility was recognized as the safest terminal in the DistTech system in 2005.

Drivers participate in the Million Miles Club. Fifty-three drivers have reached the one-, two-, or three-million-mile mark for accident-free driving since the program was started in 1989.

In achieving those driving milestones, those drivers have epitomized the goal expressed in the DistTech mission statement: To be the best bulk logistics provider in North America, period! At DistTech, being the best also means being the safest.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.