Roundtable Discussion Addresses Safety Issues Affecting Carriers

Dec. 1, 1998
A tank truck carrier's safety record depends significantly on the ability of its drivers and their longevity with the company. Enhancing driver performance

A tank truck carrier's safety record depends significantly on the ability of its drivers and their longevity with the company. Enhancing driver performance and retention requires creativity in training, reward programs, and hiring practices, said industry managers at a roundtable discussion in Exton, Pennsylvania, October 12.

The meeting was presented by ECS Underwriting Inc and was moderated by Kate McGinn, vice-president of the company's transportation business unit. Other topics were governmental issues and their impact on the industry. Speakers included carrier safety directors, government and association officials, safety consultants, and ECS employees.

Lee Drury Lee Drury, director of safety and training for Jack B Kelley Inc of Amarillo, Texas, discussed the company's safety and performance bonus award program that has successfully promoted safe driving performance, enhanced customers relations, and reduced operating costs. All drivers are eligible for participation on the first day of the first full month of employment. Bonuses are paid semiannually and are based on 100 points per month (equal to $100). The maximum amount is subject to deductions based on unsafe actions or poor performance.

"We used to have a lot of problems with over-hours, but when we started the points deduction for that, we lowered our overall violations by 50%," said Drury. "I knew the program was working when some of our drivers started calling in and explaining their situations."

Drivers not only earn points for themselves, but they generate cost savings for the company. As drivers compete for the awards, their driving habits improve, and so does the budget's bottom line. For example, to avoid citations, drivers follow posted speed limits. The results are that fuel usage goes down, less vehicle maintenance is required, and tire wear is reduced.

In addition to lower operating costs, the company's driver retention record has benefited. Drivers are much less prone to leave the company abruptly if they have a stake in the bonus program, which is another cost savings. Training a new driver to reach a productive stage on the road can cost about $3,500, said Drury.

Safer driving means fewer accidents. That adds up to a reduction in the cost of claims and, subsequently, lower premiums. "Both claims and premiums have been reduced significantly at Jack B Kelley," Drury said, adding that the $200,000 budgeted annually for the bonus program is well invested.

"This company has always awarded its employees generously," said Drury. "And, we constantly look at our safety program to see what we can do to improve it."

Fine-tuning the program has produced consistent progress. Accidents per million miles have been cut drastically, and the accidents that do occur are less severe. Drivers see firsthand the reduction in accidents, which reinforces for them the value of training and the bonus program.

The benefits also are reflected in fewer minor incidents. "Before we introduced this program, we would get worker compensation claims for people tripping over objects and doing other careless things," he said. "Now, we have few claims like that."

Bill Price Bill Price, vice-president of safety at United Petroleum Transports of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, said rewarding drivers for safe driving has become an important part of the company's overall safety program. To make the administrative process easier, gift rewards are processed directly from mail order catalogs and sent to the recipient's address. Owner-operators also receive recognition for avoiding accidents and incidents, and are eligible for gifts.

"We also reward drivers when they are stopped by inspectors and get a good check," he said.

Bonus levels are based on 50,000 miles driven with no accidents and reportable incidences. Each month a driver is named Professional Driver of the Month and competes for the final designation of Driver of the Year.

Conversely, when drivers are cited or involved in incidents considered unsafe, a "blooper letter" goes out to all drivers with a copy of the accident or incident report.

While the programs are successful, the company wanted to address drivers who continually prove dependable through long-time service. As their safe driving records continue to mount, they receive special designations: Senior Driver I and II; Master Driver I and II; and the ultimate title, Chief Master Driver.

Michael Baker Michael Baker, director of safety and human resources for Usher Transport Inc of Paducah, Kentucky, commented on hiring practices that can improve safe driving records. He also pointed out that drivers set the standard for customer relations.

"Customers don't like seeing new drivers all the time, and bulk terminals don't like working with inexperienced drivers," he said. "It's better to let the truck sit a couple of days until a qualified driver can be hired - someone who won't be a retention problem. We spend a lot more time with the hiring process than we used to."

Applicants' driving records are especially important to the hiring process and should be carefully reviewed. Usher Transport does not hire drivers with more than one chargeable accident in a three-year period. "That policy should apply to owner-operators as well," he said.

"Don't fall into hiring the wrong people," he cautioned.

At Usher Transport, recruiters and terminal managers participate in the hiring process, but the safety director has the final say in the hiring.

Having hired a new driver and scheduled the person for training, managers are cautioned to begin positive communication on the first day the person is on the job. "Meet the new driver at the door," Baker said. "Introduce the other drivers. Visit with them. Do all of this so the new person doesn't leave at the first coffee break of the training session. Retention starts on the first day."

New drivers for Usher Transport are introduced to all the officers of the company, including the president. "We strive to keep that open-door policy because the drivers really like it," he said.

The company also believes in good relationships with its owner-operators and offers equipment and insurance benefits. "If you can't help your owner-operators, they won't stay with you," said Baker.

He also advised managers to look for positive interaction between drivers, dispatchers, and other operations employees. If there are consistent problems between the drivers and employees, the issue should be addressed by providing communication training. "You've got to get everybody on board and working together," he said. "That's all part of retention."

Robert Coussan Robert Coussan, insurance management for Dupre Transport Inc of Lafayette, Louisiana, sees the results of safety in the management of liability, worker compensation, and group health insurance. Dupre measures and categorizes everything from a scratch to a major accident.

The company takes a hard and thorough look at every worker compensation accident from minor to major injuries. The numbers are listed by month and compared with the previous year's record. The company observes the time of day and day of the week the accident occurred. The statistics will show when the accident frequency is highest. "This enables us to pinpoint what time and days of the week are the most dangerous," Coussan said. "The information can be passed on to the drivers to let them know of the hazards so they can take precautions."

One element the company sees impacting safety is the length of time the driver has been employed by the company. "We have found that more accidents occur with new drivers in the first year," he said.

However, he pointed out that conducting and evaluating statistics is but one part of the safety program and emphasized the importance of communicating with drivers. Safety and other related topics are provided through handouts, check stuffers, voice mail, regular safety meetings, wall posters, and recurrent training.

"We feel that it is always important to have a member of senior management at safety meetings to demonstrate their support of the safety program," he said.

Jim Derr Jim Derr manages loss control for a variety of ECS Risk Control Inc clients. ECS Risk Control is a division of ECS Underwriting. Issues such as program evaluation, safety and health training, and transportation safety are major considerations for carriers.

"Continuous improvement is necessary, even with the best safety records," he said. "You have to keep working at it. Watch for small incidents that may grow into large problems. Conduct accident investigations by talking to drivers to find out the root causes for the incidents."

He recommended that companies review accident statistics to determine if there are recurring incidents. "We can sometimes find a trend, maybe at a certain terminal," Derr said. "Look for patterns. Trends are more important over time. And, don't forget to look for the successes. Reward good performance."

At the same time, he warned about the paralysis of analysis, which occurs from focusing too much on statistics and not enough on individuals. "Take a look at what went wrong, he said. "Did the driver make the error, or was the training inadequate. You may have to revisit the procedures. Make some decisions and determine what needs improvement. Set goals to achieve better performance."

Michael DiGiorgio Michael DiGiorgio, director of fleet and safety operations for Paraco Gas of Purchase, New York, understands what can happen when an accident does occur. A 1994 propane truck crash and explosion in White Plains, New York, that ended in the death of the driver and extensive damage to the surrounding area provided first-hand experience for DiGiorgio.

When the accident occurred, the company had a contingency plan in place. "It forced us to learn very quickly about what our strengths and weaknesses are," he said.

DiGiorgio and Melissa Townsend, fleet and safety administrator who prepared the presentation, were both involved in the company's response to the accident. As a result of what the company managers learned from the incident, they are prepared to offer suggestions to other businesses that will help them respond should a similar accident occur.

DiGiorgio recommended that companies designate a person to be in charge of incidents who will know all procedures, including how to work with local, state, and federal authorities. He was the designated responder for Paraco and had been trained for such an eventuality, which enabled him to act quickly and appropriately.

DiGiorgio made several suggestions for carriers' safety managers. Companies should keep a roadside inspection data base that is updated quarterly, compare that information to what's reported on government web sites, give cargo inspectors and drivers on-going training, and know how many hours drivers are working.

"The operation branch and payroll department should inspect and verify time sheets and logs," he said. "We don't pay drivers without a copy of the log." At Paraco, this information is audited by safety department managers, and an outside audit is conducted monthly by an independent firm.

Along with other speakers, he agreed that safety managers should have a final say in hiring. He suggested that companies have a driver suspension/termination policy in effect and that written manuals be user friendly.

"There should be written emergency procedures for cargo tank drivers transporting propane, and a copy should be carried in the truck," he said. Drivers should be so well trained that they can recite the procedures.

Training should cover accident prevention, key company policies and procedures, and awareness about alcohol, drugs, and fatigue. "If you don't have a training program on fatigue, please consider establishing one," said DiGiorgio. The company has had a fatigue training program in effect for many years before the propane accident and has shared it with other companies.

He also noted that policies and procedures should be continually updated, and employees should have a voice in them before they are implemented. "No matter how big or small your company is, you have to be prepared," he said.

Ray Riley To prepare for any accident requires in-depth training for all personnel. Ray Riley, safety manager for Miller Transporters Inc of Jackson, Mississippi, said, "It is important to recognize that we must provide organized and effective training, or be content with employees who are directed primarily by their own habits and practices."

Although the lecture is the most common method of presentation in a training session, it may not necessarily be the best way to teach. Lectures cover broad areas and many topics in a short time. However, they give little opportunity for exchange of ideas. "The seminar method is a planned approach to learning," he said. "And, it does require participation from the group."

Other methods deal with programmed instruction, classroom training, on-the-job training, and discussion training. All have benefits and shortcomings. Riley recommended the use of questions to stimulate participation. "Questioning is the best technique instructors can use to ensure that students give their attention to the subject, that they understand, and that they retain the material presented," he said.

In addition to the various training methods, a new procedure is becoming popular. Simulators, like those used to train pilots, are being adopted for truck driver training.

Any training should have a goal. If a problem has precipitated the training session, then the goal is to be sure the training is directed toward solving that problem.

John Conley Because training focuses on many governmental rules and regulations, company managers must stay abreast of actions taking place in legislative and administrative bodies. To help keep managers updated, John Conley, vice-president of the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), Washington DC, discussed current issues expected to impact the tank truck industry.

"It's an extremely busy time for Washington officials, especially for the people who oversee our industry," he said.

Concerns include hours-of-service regulations. The Department of Transportation and the American Trucking Associations (ATA) are conducting driver fatigue studies that could eventually produce several adaptations to current regulations, such as limiting drivers to 14 hours on the job no matter what duty. Also receiving attention are issues involving longer rest and recovery periods, two sleep cycles, sleeper berth use, time management off the job, and changes in the use of the log book.

"It's going to mean talking to the shippers to ensure that the drivers aren't sitting in a long line at the loading rack or waiting for product tests to be performed," he said. "The drivers would be considered on the job while waiting."

Another issue expected to reverberate throughout the tank truck industry is a rule directed at LP-gas distributors and designed to prevent hose failures. New proposals would require remote control devices and an additional driver in some deliveries. "Hose maintenance and hose identification programs definitely will come out of this," said Conley.

Wet lines on petroleum distribution vehicles are yet another looming issue. The National Transportation Safety Board is calling for action that would require wet lines to be emptied after each loading and unloading. Conley pointed out that one device is being tested that could be used to pump out the product, but carriers will have to make considerable adaptations if the consideration should become law.

Other mandates under consideration relate to out-of-service criteria. Changes in rules regarding out-of-service vehicles, if implemented, would have tremendous industry impact. "The NTTC wants to have a say in why a vehicle is designated out of service," he said. Vehicles that are designated out of service will impact the carrier's overall profile, a significant factor with shippers who are deciding which company they will use to haul their products.

Conley also updated the group on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposals that will affect cleaning facilities. According to the proposal, EPA plans to establish pretreatment rules for existing and new chemical and foodgrade cleaning racks that discharge wastewater into lakes, rivers, or streams, or to publicly owned treatment works.

Wash racks that send wastewater to industrial treatment facilities are exempt from the proposed rule. The agency also excluded cleaning facilities that are dedicated to rail cars, petroleum products, dry bulkers, and intermediate bulk containers.

The NTTC is concerned that the EPA's proposals would exempt certain facilities and that much of the basis for the proposal comes from data based on pesticide cleaning facilities, a very small factor in tank cleaning.

The NTTC is working toward establishing a level playing field for the various equipment cleaning facilities, reducing some of the technology bases, and increasing the allowable wastewater flow by which the base standard is set.

In addition to the information on the tank wash facilities proposal, Conley briefed safety managers on another subject that is prompting DOT consideration: to require an independent certified vessel inspector to approve all tank trailer vessel repairs. Some trailers already are regulated, such as vessels that carry propane. However, others are exempt.

"The cost of this inspection would come in the downtime involved while waiting for the inspector," Conley said.

Dennis McGee Dennis McGee, a special agent for the Office of Motor Carriers, in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, division office, discussed the department's reorganization that will change regional offices. "Regional directors will not have as much authority," he said. "It's going to be a lot of streamlining." The transition is underway, but expected to take two years to totally implement.

Although reorganization has begun, officials will continue with various duties, such as conducting transportation surveys. McGee reviewed recent statistics that indicate fatal accidents for all vehicles are down 2%. However, the percentages increase to 4% for large trucks. And, he added, because of their high profile, trucks in highway incidents attract the attention of the public. These incidents have led to increased negative publicity and may generate even more in the future.

However, continued technological development is changing the face of regulation, McGee said. Systems have been introduced in many states that allow trucks to bypass inspection stations. Further development is likely to occur as a result of the Internet, which should expedite transportation arrangements between states and aid uninterrupted movement.

Kenneth Gollon Kenneth Gollon, a consultant with ECS Risk Control who performs environmental risk assessment surveys, reminded safety managers of the December 1998 deadline for complying with EPA underground storage tank regulations. The mandate to replace, upgrade, or close underground storage tanks constructed before 1988 will not be extended.

Further complicating the issue are the many acquisitions and mergers that will involve sites that have been environmentally impacted by hazardous materials. The new owners will have to make the adjustments required for compliance. Sites involved in transitions may have various liabilities, including hazardous materials storage, buried solid wastes, discarded motor parts, chemicals or petroleum products leaking from old underground tanks, lead paint, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), asbestos, and sewage leaks.