On hand to accept the 2015 Heil Outstanding Safety Performance Trophy for Miller Transporters were from left Ray Riley Brent Cobb and Lee Miller

Heil Trophy winners discuss safety culture

May 3, 2017
THE Heil Trophy is the tank truck industry’s most prestigious and sought-after award—the equivalent of the Lombardi Trophy in the National Football League and the Stanley Cup in the National Hockey League.

THE Heil Trophy is the tank truck industry’s most prestigious and sought-after award—the equivalent of the Lombardi Trophy in the National Football League and the Stanley Cup in the National Hockey League.

In a presentation entitled “NTTC Outstanding Safety Performance: The Elite Culture of the Heil Trophy,” the National Tank Truck Carriers assembled a panel of three industry executives who know something about winning safety programs: Griff Odgers, senior vice-president of safety and risk management for Andrews Logistics (recipient of the 2009 Heil Trophy) and who served as national chairman of NTTC’s Safety and Security Council; Lee Miller, president of Miller Transporters (winner of the 2015 Heil Trophy) and first vice chairman of NTTC’s executive board; and Randy Vaughn, senior vice-president of administration and risk management for Superior Bulk Logistics (winner of the Heil Trophy in 2013) and immediate past chairman of NTTC’s Safety and Security Council.

Q: Can you talk about your safety process, and are your safety professionals involved in the insurance bid process or claims management process?

Odgers: My challenge was that there was no safety program and we had to start from the top and work our way down. I already had a buy-in from the boss: “Do what you need to do.” It took a lot of training. I did have people to help train me to train my folks, and that’s those from National Tank Truck. We now have 260 drivers and operate 305 trucks. We do have the training in place to train everybody. We won the Heil Trophy in 2009, and that was my confirmation that you know what you’re doing and things were paying off. It opened up a big opportunity for us to go to our customers. It opened up a very large roadmap and made us more visible to larger customers and to create more business. There was a real positive impact across the board. I have two safety directors who work for me, and they are involved in our accident investigations, our insurance. They help me gather the insurance information I need. In 14 years, it’s been a great ride. I think with the upper management, you have to have the buy-in from those folks or you’re just not going to be successful. It starts at the top and if you’ve got an open checkbook, you can make some wonderful things happen.

Randy Vaughn [right], Superior Bulk Logistics vice-president of administration and Responsible Care coordinator, received a plaque naming him Tank Truck Safety Professional of the Year. The plaque was presented by Troy Hradsky, Heil Trailer International. Superior Carriers, a wholly owned division of Superior Bulk Logistics, was the winner of the NTTC’s 2013 Outstanding Performance Trophy.

Miller: We are a family-owned business. We’re celebrating our 75th anniversary. We pretty well have our structure in place. It’s long-standing in the fabric of the company that safety is first and foremost in everything we do. Structurally, the VP of safety works directly for me. So there’s no gap in between him and me. We have three regional safety supervisors scattered throughout the country and we also have a full-time training director who is responsible for training every single driver that comes to work for Miller Transporters. They all attend a four-day orientation school in Jackson, Mississippi. And we use a very consistent message throughout. On the first day of school, before the information overload starts on our drivers, I address the class and say, “OK, you’re going to hear a lot of stuff. But I want you to hear it from me that safety is all that we’re about.” That’s the foundation they get. I think it makes a difference. It’s a hard business, so sometimes if you can give them the basics and absolutes of knowing what’s the most important thing … We put a lot of emphasis with drivers to be able to manage the information they’re sent as far as road conditions and traffic and time and logs and equipment. A lot of information comes through them and we want them to be able to process that in a safe way. That message is reinforced throughout in terms of refresher training, scheduled safety meetings, weekly updates to the drivers. We try to keep the message fresh to them, talk as it relates to the time of the year or weather conditions coming up or certain things that may be relevant: law changes or things like that. As far as risk management, our safety team does not get involved in the bidding of the insurance. We do have a risk manager who does that. Our safety people are involved in any accident from the very beginning in (a) trying to make sure the situation doesn’t get any worse, and (b) to begin the process of cleaning up or any sort of remediation we need to do right away.

Vaughn: Superior Bulk Logistics has been in business for over 76 years. It’s a private company. The principal owner was with us for 51 years, so it’s a very sound company. The corporation has been a Responsible Care partner since 1998. We have a director of EHS&S and four regional EHS&S managers throughout the United States. We cover a lot of different facets and try to get the regional manager to hire the right people. It’s like any other thing in sports or whatever. Individuals want to be with a winning team. When we won the Heil Award, that was a prestigious award and a lot of people will look at that. We know the bulk transport industry is different. We were seeing our workers’ comp raised, so we instituted a dexterity screen test. In 2012, we were able to reduce our workers’ comp by 38%, just adding that one step. There’s no way to measure how many people today have applied because they see we have dexterity tests. We have a very thorough training facility in South Carolina, where we provide our week-long initial training. Our terminal managers and dispatchers—anybody that’s going to do the operation—will attend that program. Then we have certified driver trainers come to our corporate office and we re-certify them every two years. Our risk management is a separate department, but our four field guys along with director of safety get involved with investigations. The way I look at it, in our safety program, everybody watches everybody’s back and tries to get the message across that safety is everybody’s responsibility. You’ve got to be able to walk the talk. Every meeting, whether it’s an operations or sales meeting, starts with safety. The biggest thing is the culture. A lot of times, new guys come into the organization and figure safety is safety’s responsibility. We have 1,400 employees, roughly 100 drivers. You have to go back and make sure safety is everybody’s individually. When you have one guy looking over the other guy, he has reduced his chances for an accident. 

Q: Let’s drill down into trends and talk about how they might better address your business needs and solve problems. As the industry continues to make further advances in safety technology, an abundance of information is generated and has to be managed. How do your companies get your arms around this glut of data in today’s CSA regulatory environment? Do you tie in a critical event to a corrective action process, and is there a potentially negative impact of all this safety technology?

J Darron Eschle and Griff Odgers accepted the 2009 Heil Outstanding Performance Trophy during NTTC’s annual meeting in Chicago IL.

​Odgers: It’s fun to see where the technology is going. We already have access to our CSA scores. We’re able to see all over the news right now that in the next 15 years, we’ll maybe see the first driverless truck on the road. To me, that’s pretty fascinating, but pretty scary at the same time because my little pea brain has a hard time wrapping its hands around the functionality of that, with the current infrastructure we have on highways. We currently run electronic logs, and we have automatic transmissions, and super singles as part of our effort to improve fuel mileage. Using all of that technology, the bottom line is that we are trying to make a better environment for our drivers on the road. This is my personal perspective. With the electronic driver log system, there is a huge amount of data that you can capture from those units. It’s up to you to get in there and dig through, and determine what you can and can’t use. I look for data to be a predictor of who’s going to be the next accident: drivers that are potential problems and aren’t coachable, and you have to make a change. There is an awful lot of technology out there. You have to decide what you can and can’t use. You have to have people trained to pull that information and recognize what it is telling you. And then, what are you going to do with it? Because you don’t want to give drivers bad information. We have spent almost 18 months really drilling down into the data and determining what is good information what is bad information. We have built our own scorecards. It’s been amazing how good of a predictor it’s been for drivers that are your potential problems. Unfortunately, we didn’t make the move to remove a couple of drivers in time, and we paid the price for it. So the information is out there. We all have to face that. Good technology is coming down the pike.

Miller: There is awesome technology, but there’s too much of it to do something with all of it. So you have to be selective on what you feel works best for you, whether it’s the cameras or lane departure or a combination of those things. I just don’t see how you can use all the technology. If you had an unlimited budget, that’s one thing. But you don’t have unlimited time and an unlimited infrastructure that would allow you to send the data up and down the line. We felt like some things were predictors of future behavior and we put those into a system where every Monday morning, we have a list of drivers that need a face-to-face meeting because certain things that came up in their data has led us to believe they may be the next accident or may be at risk to have an accident. That’s really helped us, and I feel like that had a big part of us winning the Heil Trophy. Having said that, in spite of all the technology and equipment and everything, it is still a people business. Your best technology is still a one-on-one conversation with your driver. Coaching is still an essential part. There’s no way you can have an email safety program. It still comes down to using your time money and resources on areas that need it the most. That’s where we feel we’ve been able to use technology

Vaughn: You never want that individual to depend on this. You never want to get to that point where you’ve taken everything out of their way. They should understand the safest device in that truck is the human driver. The telematics that we have, we use the Omnitracs system, roll stability, some cameras, some lane departure, but with that data, if you don’t do anything with that data … this is a sue society. It’s a double-edged sword. If you’re going to have these telematics, you have to do something with that. If you’re not looking at it, I guarantee the attorney is going to look at it. The court is going to say, “This guy has this, this this, and you never did anything about it.” So you have an accident waiting to happen. I think the drivers have more acceptance if you’re proactive with them rather than reactive with them. Safety is everybody in the organization, whether it be your dispatchers, whether it be your billing and everything else. It’s the culture. If you’ve got the telematics out there, don’t overstress your drivers. You can put so much stuff in the cab that they are so distracted that you are defeating the purpose. Whatever you put in there, make sure you use it. Because if you don’t use that, I guarantee a plaintiff attorney will.   ♦