DSI Transports Inc Pursues Safety, Profitability, Expansion Objectives

June 1, 1998
For DSI Transports Inc, 1997 got off to a rough start. But the year finished strong in several key areas for the Houston, Texas-based tank truck carrier.Early

For DSI Transports Inc, 1997 got off to a rough start. But the year finished strong in several key areas for the Houston, Texas-based tank truck carrier.

Early in the year, DSI Transports underwent a Department of Transportation compliance review that resulted in a conditional safety rating. Revenues slumped, and three unprofitable terminals were closed. Rumors continued to circulate that DSI's British parent company was going to sell the carrier.

What a difference a few months made. Within the first three months of 1997, DSI Transports regained a satisfactory safety rating. By the end of the year, the carrier received the American Trucking Associations Safe Fleet Award for tank truck carriers that log more than 50 million miles. Revenues recovered, and top management made it clear that DSI Transports was not for sale.

"It was a rocky start to a year, and we faced some difficulties," says Philip L Abraira, president of DSI Transports. "All of that is behind us now. We've proven that this is still a high quality tank truck carrier. We are going to be around for many more years."

Throughout a recent interview, Abraira stressed that DSI Transports is building for the future. "This company is not for sale," he says. "Rentokil has made it very clear that the transportation properties are now an important part of its holdings. We are in the Initial Division of Rentokil, and we are changing our name to Initial DSI Transports Inc."

Looking back over the past year, the first thing the carrier management did was address the safety rating problem. A 100% log audit was performed, and 92 drivers were suspended. DOT performed a reaudit, and DSI Transports regained its satisfactory safety rating in just 45 days.

"Without question, we had some problems at the terminal that DOT picked for the audit, but safety has always been critically important to us," Abraira says. "Our safety performance in 1997 was actually better than during the two previous years.

"We have since conducted two additional audits on DOT logs and reconciled them to independent time documents. For example, we reviewed motel and toll receipts."

On the financial side, top management focused on lowering the operating ratio to 94%, a significant improvement over 1996. Corporate overhead was lowered in a number of ways, including staff reductions. The cost savings equaled approximately 2% of sales.

"We're working on profitability and expanding our chemical activity," says Nick L Braden, vice-president of sales at DSI Transports. "We are expanding chemical operations by segment and region. Our corporate objective is 20% annual growth in earnings."

The carrier is expanding the areas served in the Midwest and Northeast, and it is opening new terminals. A new terminal was added in Chattanooga, Tennessee, last year, and the carrier has opened a facility in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"We're working on plans to build a new terminal in the Houston area," Braden says. "Our terminal in nearby Deer Park simply isn't big enough for the current level of activity. We're also planning substantial capital spending to improve other facilities."

DSI Transports currently has 40 terminals in 22 states. Operating out of the terminals are 916 tractors and 1,323 trailers. Owner-operators supply 120 of the tractors. The carrier has 1,376 drivers on the payroll, including 161 independent contractors.

Capital spending is planned for the fleet, as well as for management operations software systems and terminals. DSI Transports is buying 130 new tractors and 120 new tank trailers in 1998. While a majority of the new vehicles are for replacement, the fleet will see a net increase of about 40 company-owned tractors and 30 trailers.

Standards for hiring drivers to fill those new tractors will be just as high as ever. To attract good-quality drivers, DSI Transports has hired a director of driver recruiting. The carrier also has taken a number of improvement steps, including raising pay and restructuring the insurance and benefit programs.

"While we've lowered the age limit to 23 from 25, we still require truck driving experience for two of the last four years," says Robert A Love, vice-president of safety & quality. "Owner-operators must have driven a tanker rig for three of the past five years."

The work history of each applicant is checked in detail. DSI Transports will reject anyone with a conviction in the past five years for driving under the influence or more than three moving violation convictions in that same period.

A Behavioral Scientific Technology Job Candidate Profile questionnaire is administered. The survey has 120 questions and takes about 20 minutes to complete. Four categories focus on work safety, dependability, driving safety, and people relations.

"The questionnaire evaluates worker desire to avoid on-the-job injuries," Love says. "It grades an individual's willingness to follow rules, policies, and work schedules. It looks at the likelihood that someone will work well with customers and fellow employees.

"We started using the questionnaire in January as part of an effort to improve our safety record. We're already getting results. Some applicants are not meeting the minimum qualification standard. We're turning down people who would have been hired in the past."

The driver training program has undergone a complete review and has been restructured to provide more uniformity and consistency. The training manual also was rewritten in the process. The program is still tailored to meet specific terminal and customer requirements.

Initial training starts with a two-day classroom orientation at the terminal followed by a four-day class conducted by the regional training coordinator. New drivers take several training trips with the exact number determined by the amount of prior experience.

Retraining sessions are scheduled for drivers involved in accidents and incidents, such as spills. More emergency response training is being conducted. Drills are much more realistic now.

Safety managers also clarified the safety and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) policy manuals. "We want to make sure our employees have a clear understanding of requirements," Love says. "We want to do what is right, and top management supports that objective."

In line with doing what is right, DSI Transports has switched to higher quality personal protective equipment and is requiring its use in more situations. Chemical-resistant work shoes are now required.

Among those involved in the policy rewrites were the five regional safety managers under Love's direction. They are: Frank Galloway, director of safety; Ron Perry, Texas regional safety manager; Paul Penick, safety manager for Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida; Wayne Hadley, eastern seaboard safety manager; and Bob Stephanek, Midwest safety manager.

Accidents and incidents are analyzed in greater detail, and a database is being developed. "We want to get to the root cause of accidents," says Neil Voorhees, safety compliance manager. "We're looking at various preventive measures, and we're putting greater emphasis on the Smith System, which teaches drivers to see problem situations developing as they drive."

Statistics gathered for 1997 show that side impact collisions predominated (48.5% of the total), with most of them attributed to other vehicles. Rollovers were 15.7% of the total, and rear-end collisions blamed on other vehicles accounted for 11.7%.

"We think driver alertness is a key factor industrywide in many accidents," Voorhees says. "We're looking for ways to keep drivers more awake. There is no question that truck drivers in general need more rest. It's an industrywide issue.

Communication, both internal and external, has been beefed up. Internal changes include upgrading the Qualcomm satellite communication system used by the fleet. Externally, the car-rier is getting more involved with TransCAER and is participating in more Local Emergency Planning Committees.

The driver award program has been strengthened. DSI Transports encourages safe driving with a variety of incentives and awards. A belt buckle is presented for one year with no preventable accidents, and a watch is given for two years of accident-free driving. A third year of safe driving brings a ring, and diamonds are added for each year after that.

DSI Transports has a near-miss award for those who prevent accidents, spills, and incidents. Recipients receive $75 and a tee shirt. The Road Knight program brings $75 and a special cap for DSI drivers who go out of their way to help the motoring public.

The employee-of-the-month award honors someone who does an exceptional job, and the President's Award goes to those making a significant contribution to DSI Transports and its customers. Jackets, Thermos kits, and clocks are among the incentives that have been awarded to the employee of the month.

The President's Award is given throughout the year by DSI's quality team. Recipients receive a $500 bonus and a special cap. The Golden Wheels award also is given out by the quality team. It can be earned by up to 14 drivers, five support staff, and one manager. Recipients receive a plaque and $1,250.

Well-maintained vehicles also contribute to the safety effort. DSI Transports operates Freightliner conventionals in sleeper and daycab versions. The sleeper-equipped tractors weigh about 18,200 pounds with fuel.

The fleet has standardized on Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines for the sleeper tractors and Cummins M11 engines in the daycab units. The newest Detroit Diesel engines are rated at 370/430 horsepower, while the Cummins engines are set for 330 horsepower.

Ten-speed Meritor transmissions and Meritor drive axles are standard in the fleet. Longhaul tractors have 2.93 axle ratios, and the daycab units have 3.07 ratios.

Four-channel MeritorWABCO antilock braking is standard on DSI tractors. Other safety equipment includes fresnel lenses on the lower door windows, right- and left-side fender-mounted mirrors, and Moto-Mirror powered mirrors on the passenger side.

Stainless steel DOT407 tank trailers are supplied by Brenner Tank Inc. The straight-barrel, single-compartment tanks have a 7,000-gallon capacity. Hardware includes Betts valves and Girard pressure- and vacuum-relief vents.

While general chemical tanks predominate, DSI Transports operates a varied trailer fleet. Equipment ranges from acid trailers, to DOT406 petroleum tanks, to MC331 pressure vessels for gases, to isocyanate trailers, and to non-code tanks for molten sulfur. Dry bulk trailers are used to transport plastic pellets, fertilizer, and chlorate.

The varied fleet gives DSI Transports the ability to meet virtually any customer need. A revitalized safety program means the carrier can serve its customers in the safest possible manner.

DSI Transports Inc has received a 1998 Quest for Quality "Best of the Best" award from Logistics Management and Distribution Report. The award was based on the results of a survey sent to a representative sample of shippers.The award was presented June 3 at a luncheon at the International Transportation and Logistics Exhibition and Conference in Chicago, Illinois.

"This award is an indication of the performance gains that have been accomplished at DSI Transports since its acquisition by Rentokil Initial," says John W Jackson, vice-president of pricing & methods at DSI Transports.