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FR&TL winning strategy constantly refreshes safety program, demands best from everyone

July 24, 2012
Building a winning safety program takes a top-down commitment. Nowhere is this more apparent that at Florida Rock & Tank Lines Inc (FR&TL), the winner of this year’s National Tank Truck Carriers’ top safety award

Building a winning safety program takes a top-down commitment. Nowhere is this more apparent that at Florida Rock & Tank Lines Inc (FR&TL), the winner of this year’s National Tank Truck Carriers’ top safety award.

Safety performance and achievement account for a significant percentage of performance bonuses paid out to the tank truck carrier’s management team. The program covers every manager in the system, from top corporate officers to terminal managers and even dispatchers.

“We believethat every manager at Florida Rock & Tank Lines must live the safety message at thiscompany,” says Robert E Sandlin, FR&TL president and chief executive officer. “Our drive for continuous improvement starts and ends with safety. We strive to operate safely first and then provide the best customer service in the industry. We believe this commitment clearly differentiates us from other carriers.”

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Florida Rock & Tank Lines definitely puts safety first, according to Jim Anderson, FR&TL’s vice-president of safety. He was honored as 2011 Tank Truck Safety Director of the Year, during the NTTC Safety & Security Council annual seminar in June in New Orleans, Louisiana.

“We constantly challenge ourselves to set the safety bar higher and higher,” he says. “We look at safety from all perspectives, which we believe has helped us to steadily drive down our preventable accident ratio. Our corporate leadership has been willing to walk away from business where a customer was unwilling to correct safety issues that posed unreasonable risks for our drivers.”

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Without question, this top-down approach to safety played a big role in positioning FR&TL to claim the NTTC’s Outstanding Performance Trophy with a frequency of just 0.340 accidents per million miles. The carrier also was the Grand Award winner in the 35-50 million miles class of the NTTC 2011 Competitive Safety Contest and the Honor Award for the same mileage category for personnel safety. The carrier also earned a fifth-year certificate in the 2011 Improvement Contest.

In addition to the most recent safety accolades, FR&TL has been recognized for its outstanding performance by customers and others. In 2011 and 2010, the company was named Carrier of the Year by Murphy USA. Anderson was named 2010 Safety Professional of the Year by the Florida Trucking Association, and the fleet received the Lockton Companies LLC Presidential Award for Safety Excellence in 2009.

First time

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A first-time winner of the Outstanding Performance Trophy, the company that became FR&TL got its start in the early 1960s as Shands & Baker Inc, a sales agent for Rock and Sand Mines. The group eventually merged and became Florida Rock Industries Inc. Shands & Baker started a dump truck fleet that operated as a private carrier and remained focused on construction aggregates and sand until 1972.

The shift to petroleum and chemical hauling started with the acquisition of Petroleum Carrier Corporation of Florida Inc in October of that year. Shortly after the acquisition, the transportation group changed its name to Florida Rock & Tank Lines. In 1986, FR&TL was spun off by parent company Florida Rock Industries and began trading on the NASDAQ stock exchange.

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In February 1989, the corporate name was changed from Florida Rock & Tank Lines to FRP properties Inc. The name changed again in March 2000 to Patriot Transportation Holdings Inc, and currently is comprised of FR&TL and a real estate group consisting of FRP Development Corp and Florida Rock Properties Inc. It is still a publicly traded company, one of a handful with tank truck operations.

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“We have gone through a lot of change over the years,” Sandlin says. “When I joined the company in 1983, our trucking operations were split roughly 50/50 between dump truck and petroleum hauling. We eventually determined that tank truck operations offered the best potential for future growth and sold off all non-tank operations over a number of years.

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“Today, petroleum hauling accounts for 80% of our business. Dry bulk (lime, cement, and other products) make up 10%, and industrial chemicals account for another 10%. We are a southeast regional hauler.”

In addition to Florida, the six-state region served by FR&TL includes Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Dispersed among those states are 25 terminals, some with mixed operations but most dedicated to petroleum hauling.

“Most of our fleet facilities are at petroleum pipeline and terminal locations,” Sandlin says. “Our White Springs, Florida, terminal is focused on just dry bulk and chemical hauling.”

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Florida Rock & Tank Lines has seen some of its biggest recent growth in North and South Carolina. “We want to grow, and our goal is to open a new terminal every 18 months,” Sandlin says.

Aggressive market growth helped the carrier generate $97.8 million in revenue in 2011, up from $89.6 million in 2010. Expansion into new markets brought steady growth for the FR&TL fleet, which currently runs 419 tractors and 529 tank trailers. The carrier employs 581 drivers.

Tractors average 90,000 miles per year, and most of those in petroleum service are slipseated. Drivers with shorter hauls can make up to five deliveries in a shift.

Performance improvement

Even as the company grew and expanded in recent years, management realized the importance of raising the performance and quality of the operation to a higher level. “Continuous improvement is a central part of our ACE (Achieve Continuous Excellence) program, and we are constantly improving the process,” Sandlin says.

The safety program plays a big role in ACE, and it got a major overhaul in 2004. “We thought we had a good safety program, but we felt we weren’t getting the results we wanted,” Anderson says. “We brought our insurance broker in to perform an independent analysis of our safety program.”

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Using a safety perception survey, the insurance broker met with FR&TL employees at about a third of the carrier’s terminals. The objective was to see how drivers, dispatchers, and terminal managers perceived the company culture.

“We wanted to know what our employees in the field thought about this company and its programs,” Anderson says. “We got some surprises. The biggest finding was the realization that there was a big disconnect between jobs and between people at different levels of the company. At some locations, we really weren’t far apart, but the gap was very wide in other locations.”

Safety reorganization

The findings brought a complete reorganization of the safety program. Selection and hiring procedures were changed for dispatchers and drivers.

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The carrier began using predictive analysis as part of the selection process for dispatchers. “We want to make sure the person we select has the right personality for that job,” Anderson says. “We’re also doing a lot more dispatcher training. A dispatcher has a huge impact on driver retention. He is the driver’s direct supervisor.”

The driver selection and training process was changed from top to bottom. FR&TL moved to a centralized driver recruiting program and hired two corporate recruiters who work under the safety department, rather than the human resources department.

“While the driver screening process now takes place at the corporate headquarters, terminal managers still make the final hiring decision,” Anderson says. “The terminal manager still has ownership of the final selection. That is very important. Terminal managers conduct 30/60/90-day reviews of new hires.”

Standardized hiring procedures were developed. The carrier looks for at least two years of truck driving experience and a clean driving record. “Most of the drivers we hire have a lot more than the minimum of two years of truck driving,” Anderson says.

Driver training

Training for newly hired drivers was completely restructured. Two of the biggest changes were development of a formal certification process for driver trainers and creation of a corporate driver training school.

“We increased the pay for driver trainers to offset lost productivity due to their training duties,” Anderson says. “We’ve also made sure that our trainers stand out with specially logoed uniform shirts.”

On the training side, newly hired drivers complete their initial orientation and field training at their assigned terminal before being sent to the three-day corporate-wide school. Scheduled monthly, the centralized training is conducted at classrooms Jacksonville and Tampa, Florida, and Atlanta, Georgia.

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Topics covered during the centralized training class include HM-126, loading and unloading procedures, the National Safety Council’s Defensive Driving Program, emergency response procedures, and a benefits review. FR&TL uses a combination live instruction, videos, and Power Point presentations in the training program. Training materials are updated at least annually.

Safety gets plenty of attention during the training. Drivers learn about the company expectations for safe performance and the rewards for meeting or exceeding expectations. Specifically, the objective is no preventable accidents, injuries, product mixes, or spills.

FR&TL pays out quarterly and annual driver safety bonuses that equal at least 6% of annual pay. That’s just a start, though. Each terminal has safety goals based on driver performance. Each year, safety-violation-free drivers at the terminals with the best safety records qualify for a drawing for a Chevy Silverado pickup truck.

“This has been a very successful safety bonus program,” Anderson says. “It uses individual and peer pressure to promote safety.”

Safety overhaul

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The safety program itself got an overhaul. The safety department is now considered a support group that is charged with finding the best means of preventing accidents and injuries. The department includes a manager of safety administration and recruiting, safety administrator assistant, and four regional fleet safety supervisors.

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“We shifted from an enforcement and compliance mindset,” Anderson says. “Now we look at how we can help people in the field meet their goals and do a better job. We realized we needed to get into the trenches with operations managers. We help them Identify areas needing improvement and work with them to fix problems.”

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The drive to reduce driver workplace injuries prompted Anderson and his safety team to develop an ergonomic program for the fleet.
Training was developed through Ergonomic Health Solutions to show drivers how to avoid strains, sprains, and other injuries to shoulders, knees, and lower back.

Drivers delivering petroleum were provided with kneepads for kneeling and a tool that enables them to remove the cover over the fill inlet at c-stores without bending over. Petroleum trailers are being fitted with a new tapered hose tray that provides better access to the bottom-loading adapters and valves.

Safety technology

The safety department also has been given a voice in vehicle specifications. “We look at technology that fits our operation,” Anderson says. “We have to carefully evaluate the cost-benefit of any safety-related technology. Our job is to determine what will have the biggest impact on safety.”

An outstanding example is roll stability control. “We got our first tractors with MeritorWABCO roll stability in 2006, and we believe that this is one of the greatest single

safety technologies for the tank truck sector,” Anderson says. “At one time, we were averaging one rollover per 10 million miles. We now have run 100 million miles without a rollover.”

A big contributor to the dramatic drop in rollovers is Qualcomm’s critical event reporting system. This system captures hard braking events and such. “It enables us to do a near-miss investigation on every stability system actuation,” Anderson says. “We can show the driver when and where stability events are occurring and take corrective action. We lost some drivers through this program, but we had to do that to keep driving down accident frequencies.”

Electronic driver logs are another example of cost-effective safety technology. “Our driver trainers actually sold the other drivers on the benefits of electronic logs,” Anderson says. “About 70% of our tractor fleet now has electronic log capabilities, and we will be at 100% by the end of the summer.”

Timely replacement

Getting the latest and best safety equipment into the fleet in a timely manner means replacing vehicles (especially tractors) on a regular schedule. For FR&TL, the objective is to replace tractors at 650,000 to 700,000 miles. The carrier plans to replace all of its 2007 tractors before the end of this year.

Keeping the tractor fleet up to date does more than bring in new technology. It also enables to carrier to achieve better fuel economy and greater mechanical reliability. “Truck break downs are a big concern for us,” Anderson says. “When a tractor in our petroleum hauling operation goes down, it affects two drivers, and it can significantly impact our daily operations.”

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Changes in the safety focus weren’t just internal. Through the safety department, FR&TL became more active in the state trucking associations where the fleet operates. “We realize that there is a lot of value in these groups,” Anderson says. “We believe even more tank fleet involvement is needed in these associations.”

FR&TL now participates in the state truck driving championships. “We believe these competitions can elevate driver professionalism,” Anderson says. “Drivers associate with the best in the industry at these events, and tank fleets are underrepresented.”

The carrier has reached out to local high schools to promote highway safety. Two FR&TL petroleum trailers have been wrapped with the Department of Transportation “No Zone” decal that warns about the dangers of blind spots around tractor-trailer rigs.

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The overall changes in the safety program have made a difference. The carrier has plotted a trend of steady improvement in accident frequency ratios over the past seven years. Anderson acknowledges that the improvement will flatten out at some point, but the real goal is sustainability.

“Will we reach zero accidents and incidents?” he asks. “I don’t know. However, we have to keep monitoring key safety factors and keep driving for improvement. We have to avoid complacency.

“It’s not luck that we have been successful, and we can’t let down our guard. The next accident, spill, or mix is just looming ahead. We have to stay on guard at all times.” ♦

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.