KEEPING FINGERS on the company's pulse is a long-time strategy for managers of Transport Service Co of Hinsdale, Illinois. The monitoring has paid off, particularly for the company's safety department, which this year won the National Tank Truck Carrier Inc (NTTC) Outstanding Performance Trophy, the top industry award for safety.
The award-winning company transports chemicals and foodgrade products. It operates in the United States, Canada, and Mexico from 14 US terminals (seven chemical and seven foodgrade). Annual revenue totals about $72.1 million. The company is ranked 14 in Modern Bulk Transporter's annual gross revenue report.
Bob Schurer, president, joined the company 25 years ago. He and other executives demonstrate their support of the safety program and the importance of constant watchfulness, continuous analysis, and appropriate reaction.
"Safety is a commitment to our employees, their families, our customers, the community, the general public, and the environment," says Schurer. "We hire qualified people and ensure their safe performance by providing proper training and equipment. That way, we also protect the environment and provide excellent customer service. An end product of this philosophy is reduced costs. Safety is part of our company culture.
"This company is committed to utilizing proactive planning to look ahead, recognize needs, and eliminate reactive decisions. That's the heart of our safety program."
Those comments are seconded by Thomas Hosty, vice-president for safety, compliance, and environmental, who received the NTTC 1998 Safety Director of the Year award sponsored by Heil Trailer International.
Hosty knows the value of safety, having been the company's safety manager since 1979. He joined Transport Service in 1976 after serving in the US Army and working for a railroad company, a tank truck carrier, and a dry freight carrier. "I found safety interesting, almost immediately," he recalls.
As the years passed at Transport Service, Hosty was promoted to director of safety and compliance and in 1996 was named a vice-president. He has been a proponent of statistical analysis almost from the beginning.
"We constantly track our operations and are always analyzing what we see as trends," he says. "We chart injuries and accidents and compare the statistics to those in the tank truck industry and all trucking. We use root-cause analysis to determine accident and injury causes. This company has followed these procedures since it was founded. We call it good business."
Statistics pertaining to safety are not only tracked, but evaluated and acted upon. Prevention of employee injuries, product spills, and motor vehicle accidents takes high priority.
One example of the monitoring success occurred when the company developed a uniform to protect the arms and legs of tank cleaning workers from hot water and chemicals. The burn risks had been documented and analyzed. Managers decided to find a heat-repellent fabric for functional pants and long-sleeved shirts. After working with a vendor to develop the clothing, prototype pants and shirt were made. Employees were asked to evaluate the clothing to see if it restricted their movement. With the employees' approval, the new uniform was issued to all tank cleaning employees and the risks were reduced significantly, Hosty says. All of the effort reinforced the company's belief in its monitoring system.
At the same time, the monitoring has been applied to the administration of all employee and property claims, which are overseen by the safety department. The company is self-insured.
"We conduct risk management - cradle to the grave," Hosty says. Because the safety management team see first-hand the consequences from employee injuries and property damage, they understand the value attached to a well-planned and executed safety program, and hence to the company's bottom line.
"A lot of times, if the company has an outside insurer handling claims, it loses sight of how important it is for employees to assume responsibility for their role in avoiding accidents," says Hosty. "The insurance company handles the claims, which can remove managers from seeing the repercussions accidents bring.
"When the safety program works, costs go down. We reduce worker compensation claims and keep people on the job. This shrinks the costs of hiring and training new people. Our safety training teaches drivers how to handle the equipment so that we can get the most out of it. We have fewer equipment failures, which means tractors and tank trailers stay on the road and product gets delivered."
Newly-hired dispatchers, drivers, mechanics, and tank cleaners attend classroom instruction and on-the-job training. Driver classes are taught by trained instructors who wear distinguishing uniforms. All drivers are trained to handle hazardous materials.
"Our driver training emphasizes defensive driving with heavy emphasis on jackknife and rollover prevention," says Hosty. "We provide training for tank cleaning employees and mechanics that emphasizes safety on the job.
"When an employee is hurt, we take a proactive approach. We have them come in to pick up their checks so they stay in contact with their fellow workers, allow a light work schedule, and pay them regular wages. We have a very low worker compensation injury frequency. At the same time, we have zero tolerance for fraudulent claims."
Employee Ideas Accountability works in other ways. It encourages employees to suggest ways to improve safety procedures. "Some of our best ideas come from drivers," he says. "If it's feasible and safe, we usually use the suggestion."
An example is the company's use of a driver-invented T-bolt, a device that fits into the steering column to prevent tractor theft. The simple and inexpensive device has been used with success for many years.
Another suggestion from a woman who worked at a terminal eliminated a risk of injuries in the maintenance shop. She designed a bright orange cover for a fender mirror that mechanics often bumped their heads on as they worked on tractors. The bright orange color helped mechanics see the mirror and avoid it. Not only does the cover serve as a protection, it is only removed when the maintenance job is completed, which is an indication for drivers that they can move the vehicle.
To evaluate employees' knowledge of safety, an exam is administered every six months that includes questions on safety procedures and company policies. If necessary, reviews are conducted based on the test results.
"Things change over the years, so our employees who have been here a long time need to know about the latest policies and procedures," says Hosty.
As required by federal regulations, all employees are subject to random drug testing procedures. Checks are made of drivers' driving history, motor vehicle records, worker compensation claims, and criminal charges.
Employees are issued an operations manual that includes all safety procedures and company policies, and is specified for the individual job description. It is updated regularly.
As an added incentive, a mileage club was formed for drivers and an hourly club for mechanics and tank cleaning employees. Membership is based on safe-driving miles for drivers and safe-work hours for mechanics and tank cleaning employees. A qualifying exam is also required and includes about 25 questions regarding the safety aspects of their jobs. Currently, 50 drivers and 10 tank cleaners/or mechanics claim at least 1 million miles and 20,000 hours membership, respectively.
Driver Bonus Drivers earn a per-mile bonus for safe driving that is paid when drivers reach each club level, starting with 100,000 miles. The bonuses are calculated as: -From 100,000 to 400,000 miles, one cent per mile. -From 500,000 to 900,000 miles, .011 cents per mile. -From 1 million to 1.4 million miles, .012 cents per mile. -From 1.5 million to 1.9 million miles, .013 cents per mile. -From 2 million to 2.4 million miles, .014 cents per mile.
After reaching the 400,000-mile mark, drivers receive a sign designating their name and safe-driving record. It is affixed to the driver's tractor. The company also sees that local media receives information about the award-winning drivers' accomplishments. Engraved plaques are posted prominently at the terminals and corporate office.
Employees at each terminal compete for the terminal safety award of the year. "We define the criteria based on preventable accidents, work-related injury, equipment damage, spills, and product contamination," says Hosty. "If an office employee is injured, that counts against them."
Of the NTTC Outstanding Performance Trophy, he added: "It takes everyone to win something like this - every driver, tank cleaner, dispatcher, terminal manager, and the corporate office. They all are important. To win an award like this is truly a team effort."
At the corporate level, company leaders meet at a site away from the office for monthly planning sessions and brainstorming with the goal to improve quality service and safety.
Led by Schurer, the group is composed of George Peirce, vice-president, marketing and sales, chemical division; David Marikos, vice-president marketing and sales, food division; Fred Anderson, vice-president, financial; Jim Plecker, vice-president, chemical division operations; Peter Nativo, director of maintenance; and Hosty.
One procedure developed by the company leaders, a road safety patrol program, addresses greater supervision of drivers. "This team, consisting of safety, compliance, and sales personnel, monitors our driver force to ensure the drivers are in compliance with company requirements and regulations and are operating in a professional manner," says Hosty. The program is one more example of Transport Service Company's ongoing safety development.
"For some companies which have to make financial cuts, the first are applied in the safety department, but not this company," says Hosty. "The safety budget has continued to reflect the company's dedication to this department."
The philosophy guiding the safety program began with the company's establishment in 1946 by John V Crowe II and continues today with his son, John V Crowe, chairman of the board, who assumed company leadership after his father's death in 1957. The senior Crowe operated a fuel oil distribution business throughout the Midwest. As natural gas began to replace fuel oil as the primary heating fuel in the area, the company diversified into chemical transportation. In 1967, a growth opportunity was realized with the addition of soybean oil to the carrier's list of services. Before long, the company was transporting higher value, quality sensitive food products such as corn syrup. The foodgrade growth prompted the company to form separate chemical and foodgrade divisions in 1990. Today, 64% of the fleet is dedicated to chemical distribution and 36% to foodgrade.
Hosty says keeping a finger on the pulse requires constant interaction with drivers, dispatchers, and other employees. It requires structured training programs and periodic retraining sessions. Most of all, it requires the cooperation of everyone in the company.
"We know all of our people," he says. "We keep them apprised of our goals. When we need to, we can act quickly."
Schurer emphasizes the importance of total company commitment to the safety program. "A company must have everyone on board for a program like this to work," he says. "Our safety record shows that we are united in this goal."
Both men say full employee commitment to safety earned the NTTC award. The company also received the Competitive Safety Grand Award in the 37-55 million miles class, the Personnel Safety Grand Award in the same class, and a 17-Year Improvement Award.
While company managers understand the relationship of quality personnel training and safety, they also know the importance of purchasing and maintaining quality equipment.
The company owns 820 stainless steel trailers and 495 primarily Mack tractors, says Nativo. Among the safety-oriented specifications are preset wheel bearings to help prevent wheel separations. Air dryers were moved from between frame rails under the tractor to an outside frame rail by the front bumper. "That just makes it easier and safer to work on," says Nativo.
Stainless steel hydraulically driven Drum pumps are mounted on the tractor. The arm for the electronic stop/start control is "operated by the driver like a joystick," he adds. "This system for the chemical division allows drivers to keep their eyes on the hoses, eases training, and shuts down faster than the old shaft-driven PTO systems."
The chemical division runs a wide range of tank trailers equipped to meet specific customer needs, including some that maintain certain temperatures through the use of heat exchangers and others that contain multi-compartments. The company also has eight MC331 trailers in the fleet.
Foodgrade Division The foodgrade division sweetener operation utilizes trailers that are typically 4,700-5,000 gallons in size while trailers used for other edible products have 7,000-gallon capacities.
All have stainless steel piping and valves. Stainless steel pumps are mounted on the trailer and enclosed in stainless steel cabinets. The company also has dry bulk trailers in its fleet.
"Our fleet of trailers covers a range of designs and are often specialized to meet the needs of customers," says Nativo. "To maintain our reputation for cleanliness, we use stainless steel pumps exclusively on every chemical division tractor and on all foodgrade division trailers."
The trailers come from various suppliers, including Brenner Tank Inc, Walker Stainless Equipment, Heil Trailer International, Polar Tank Trailers Inc, Mississippi Tank Co, and Stainless Tank & Equipment Co. They are equipped with Betts manways and have valves from Fisher, Betts, Sure Seal, and Knappco. Vents are supplied by Girard.
Pumps are from Drum. Suspensions are provided by Reyco and Hendrickson, and axles and brakes by Meritor. Landing gear is provided by Jost International.
Valves are designed to be quick release to facilitate rapid cleaning. Welds and protuberances on the trailers are polished to eliminate areas which could trap dirt or product and result in contamination.
Wheel rims are from Alcoa and wheel hubs are from ConMet.
The company specifies Michelin tires. A tire control program is operated by maintenance that removes tires from service on a six-year cycle. Drivers receive notices reminding them to check air pressure and fill out the accompanying forms.
The Mack tractors have Eaton 10-speed transmission, Meritor tandem drive axles with 3.90 ratio, and Mack front axles.
All tractor fifthwheels have curbside, right-hand releases that contribute to safety, Nativo says.
Tractors are on a replacement cycle of six years or 600,000 miles, whichever comes first. The rotation takes maximum advantage of Mack's five-year/500,000-mile engine manufacturer's warranty. Standardizing the tractor fleet on Mack enables efficient inventory control and interchangeable parts in support of the company's preventive maintenance program, says Nativo.
The Mack 350-horsepower engines receive oil analysis at 400,000 miles and every service after to catch premature wear and other problems that occur. Preventive maintenance is conducted every 70 days or 20,000 miles and includes an oil change, filter and lubrication.
A complete Mack-approved inspection is performed at each preventive maintenance service.
Transport Service Company has established a TSC/Mack quality control team that meets every 60 days with the Mack fleet service engineer to address recommended preventive maintenance techniques and new technology.
Safety procedures are carried over to the shop and tank cleaning facilities where each area is cleaned following work on a vehicle. "Near the end of a shift, the mechanics clean the stall," he adds.
Tires stored in racks are chained together so they won't fall onto someone. Vessels containing gas for welding are also stored chained to prevent movement.
"We conduct shop inspections and hold seminars regularly," says Nativo. "And, employees are updated on information through a newsletter, 'Tool Box Talk.' Each month we have a telephone conference with shop foremen to discuss any issues that need to be addressed."
Data is reviewed for both preventive and predictive maintenance in an ongoing effort to supply efficient equipment that will operate safely.
Moreover, the company regularly reminds employees of the safety goal through a monthly publication and memos. Terminals have wall-mounted electronic message boards that provide information about the weather, safety issues, and other general notices applicable to the operation.
"Every way we can, we remind our employees about safety," says Hosty.
Should an accident occur, the company is prepared to respond through an emergency response program. Each member of the corporate team has a designated responsibility.
"Even if there is no spill, we get an emergency response cleanup contractor on site as a backup if needed," says Hosty. "It's just one more way to ensure safety."
The company also has a contract with the Spill Center in Acton, Massachusetts, an environmental claims management service.
The company conducts training for community emergency response groups, another demonstration of its commitment to public and environmental safety.
"Transport Service Company has been honored by the NTTC for having the top safety program in our industry," says Schurer. "Through the years, recognition of our program also has come from insurance companies and other industry groups. We believe that properly equipped and trained employees are the key to being able to deliver quality performance."