Top priority

June 1, 2003
THE CONSENSUS of most safety experts is that company executives must rate safety as a carrier's top priority in order for the program to be successful.

THE CONSENSUS of most safety experts is that company executives must rate safety as a carrier's top priority in order for the program to be successful. B-H Transfer, Sandersville, Georgia, reflects that consensus in the attitude of its president, Frank Young.

“Safety comes first here,” says Young. “It's a team effort. We remind our dispatchers that no load is worth risking the public or company good; and we give drivers permission to let us know if they are fatigued and need to rest so they can just shut down.”

Tommy Cauthen, safety director, says the president's support is critical for the program. “There would be a lot of sleepless nights for me if we weren't committed to safety,” he adds. “Without support from upper management, the safety program isn't going to work.”

B-H Transfer, a liquid and dry bulk mineral hauler with 82 drivers in the tank division, won a National Tank Truck Carriers Grand Award for safety for the second year in a row, a feat Young and Cauthen say shows their determination to run a successful program.

Cauthen, a former Georgia Public Service Commission officer, was hired in 1998 by B-H Transfer for his expertise in US Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations and experience with roadside inspections. While at the Georgia agency, he learned that many carriers fail to keep drivers and vehicles in compliance with regulations.

He found that drivers often had expired commercial driver licenses (CDLs) and were overdue for DOT physicals. Vehicles lacked proper maintenance, and carriers failed to train their drivers effectively for pre-trip and post-trip procedures that could prevent many problems that put tractors or tank trailers out of service.

“Small things can really hurt a carrier,” he says. “They add up fast.”

As the new safety director at B-H Transfer, Cauthen set to work expanding the company's programs that were in place and adding others. Knowing that driver fatigue is a major factor in accidents, Cauthen established a review for driver logs.

The measure calls for drivers' hours-of-service records to be audited monthly. Forms are examined for correct entries, bills of lading are compared with driver information, and fuel entries are checked for possible falsification.

If problems are uncovered, steps are taken based on the severity of the situation — ranging from a discussion with a safety department employee to a personal conference with Cauthen. Drivers who submit incomplete two-week logs after the deadline are shut down until entries are completed.

The new hours-of-service rule will require training not only drivers, but customers on the new changes and explaining to customers how it will affect deliveries, Cauthen says. “The real impact on safety will be having to rewrite all of our software to comply with the new rules to be able to continue our audit process,” he adds. “That will be much-added expense to the company, as well.”

The company recently acquired a Trip Data and Safety Management Inc (TDSM) scanner to work in conjunction with McLeod Software's LoadMaster, an integrated dispatch and accounting transportation management system.

To contend with expired CDLs and overdue physicals, driver record information is provided to dispatchers on Mondays. The records list the expiration date of each driver's CDL and physical so that those drivers who have not renewed their CDLs or physicals can be shut down prior to the expiration.

Just as driver records are an important part of the safety program, so is the accident review process. When an incident does occur, the safety team takes a look at causes and determines, among other things, if a trend is occurring. Typical problems involve backing and turning. Because the company's tank trailers do not have baffles, product is more likely to be unstable, which increases the risk of a rollover if the driver isn't careful, Cauthen says.

A review board composed of Young, Cauthen, the human resources director, and the driver's supervisor meet to discuss the accident. After determinations are made, appropriate action is taken.

“I like to get drivers into my office and let them tell me what they did wrong,” says Cauthen. “It's important that drivers actually understand what went wrong, and how to avoid it in the future. We know that everybody makes mistakes, so we take that into account. We want to retain the driver if we can.”

Driver recruiting

In recruiting drivers, the company requires applicants to be at least 25 years old and have current CDLs and DOT physicals and two years of tank truck experience.

Classroom training includes discussion of company policies, study of DOT regulations, instructions on product loading and unloading, and lectures on defensive driving. Pre-trip and post-trip inspections training (and oversight to insure drivers are carrying out the procedure) are emphasized. This training helps to insure vehicle compliance with on-road regulations, a policy that Cauthen believes contributes to the company's low out-of-service average.

“I explain to the drivers that it's part of the job,” he says. “That it is one of the things that makes a driver a professional.”

Another training session for all drivers focuses on fatigue. “The main objective is to ensure that they recognize when they are getting tired,” Cauthen says.

Over-the-road training is conducted by company veteran drivers, as well as Cauthen who keeps his CDL and DOT physical current.

“I believe it is very important for the safety director to be able to handle a truck,” says Cauthen. “It shows the driver that we understand what their work entails.”

To further reinforce safe driving, the company presents awards to each driver who has completed 12 months on the job without a preventable accident. In addition, they receive bonuses for driving skills, based on Tripmaster in-tractor software that monitors idle time, hard braking, shifting, and other performance.

Cauthen also conducts a company truck driving rodeo with winners competing in the Georgia Trucking Association state contest. Driver abilities are evident in the many awards plaques displayed on the wall in the driver lounge.

The lounge is an indication of the company's effort to improve driver conditions by providing various amenities for their comfort. The room contains snack machines, a microwave oven, showers, and television. A bulletin board displays maintenance schedules for each tractor, a list of drivers who have won awards, and safety posters. The area adjoins the dispatching department.

Maintenance program

A significant part of the company's safety effort lies with vehicle maintenance, which is overseen by Rusty Smith, a 21-year company employee, says Cauthen.

The eight-bay shop in Sandersville contains two bays dedicated to testing and inspection, two for heavy maintenance, two for lube service, one for welding and fabrication, and one for tire maintenance.

Another part of the building houses a two-bay tank cleaning facility that is equipped with a Niagara system.

Similar facilities are available in a recently-established terminal in Sylacauga, Alabama. “We made some moves during 2002 to grow our business, including the purchase of the 4½ acres in Alabama,” says Young.

Vehicle fleet

All of this effort keeps 115 tank trailers and 84 tractors on the road providing customers with kaolin (a type of clay), sand, salt, lime, calcium carbonate, and other mineral products. Slurry is another product the company handles — produced at the plants served — and the company recently began transporting plastic pellets. To haul the products, B-H Transfer operates 78 liquid tank trailers and 37 dry bulkers.

The fleet has tank trailers from Brenner, Fruehauf, Heil Trailer International, and Polar Tank Trailer LLC. The newest DOT407 trailer was supplied by Polar and has a 6,500-gallon capacity. Components include Betts internal hydraulic valves and a Girard pressure-relief vent on a Polar domelid. Running gear includes a Reyco Transpro spring suspension, ArvinMeritor axles, and MeritorWABCO antilock braking system. Running and brake lights are supplied by Truck-Lite.

Newest Heil dry bulk trailers were supplied by Southeastern Pneumatic Inc. Trailer hardware includes Knappco and Sure Seal valves and a Solimar aeration system.

Running gear includes Reyco Transpro suspension, MeritorWABCO antilock brake system, and Dana Spicer axles. Truck-Lite supplies the lamp system and the landing gear is from Binkley.

The majority of the tractors in the fleet are from Mack, but the two newest ones are Internationals. The Macks have 427-horsepower engines while the new Internationals are powered by Caterpillar C12 engines rated at 370-horsepower. B-H Transfer prefers Eaton Fuller AutoShift 10-speed transmissions because they are credited with helping to reduce product sloshing in the tank trailers due to a smoother transition between gears.

B-H Transfer has installed Aether Systems Inc global positioning systems in the tractors, a decision that paid off in a way the managers had not anticipated. Soon after the equipment was online, one of the drivers had a serious asthmatic attack while driving. Thanks to the instant communications, he was able to call for help and was soon rescued, his exact location pinpointed.

The company received interstate authority in 1980, and since that time has had an annual growth rate of about six to eight percent, says Young.

Contributing to their success is a fall line that runs from Wrens, Georgia, to Macon, Georgia. Along the fall are numerous mineral mines — and the plants that process the raw material. Finished products are used at paper mills throughout the United States and Canada. They also are contained in paint, PVC pipe, and pharmaceuticals. B-H Transfer supplies services for the mineral facilities, including local runs as well as transportation interstate and into Canada.

Most of the routes lacked backhauls, but always understanding the cost of that situation, the company has begun to market its services to other businesses on its routes that are compatible to their main thrust.

“We had to reduce empty miles,” says Cauthen.

Young also points out that despite a reduction in the local mineral industry growth in general, B-H Transfer's amount of annual tonnage hauled has remained stable.

As for the future, Young says he anticipates the company will continue to grow, but points out that safety will remain at the top of the list of priorities.

“It's our job to educate our customers about what we can and can't do safely — what it takes for us to comply with DOT regulations,” he says. “In addition, we try to keep all of our staff apprised that we are good stewards of the motoring public.”

About the Author

Mary Davis