Creating a safety culture

by James Menzies

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Ont. – When Mike Millian was hired by Hensall District Co-operative to develop a safety, training and compliance program, he stepped into a fleet that was a ticking time bomb.

It was 2002 and the private fleet operating 34 tractors, 39 straight trucks and 118 trailers to deliver agricultural products throughout Southern Ontario had no safety policies or procedures and no training for drivers. Very few of the company’s drivers were even keeping logbooks at the time, admitted Millian.

Management realized its liability exposure out on the road was at an all-time high and recognized it was time to create a safety manager position and get serious about safety.

Enter Millian. His goal: To create a culture of safety within the fleet.

“There were no policies from the top instructing these guys how to run,” Millian recently told delegates at the Private Motor Truck Council’s annual convention. Under Millian’s guidance, the company established a “Trucking Philosophy” which was to serve as a constant reminder about the responsibilities of Hensall’s drivers. It was displayed on office walls, on the front page of all driver communication materials an in the newly-created training manual.

Next, all current drivers were road-tested – up until then, none had been subjected to a road test upon hiring. Driver files were established and training was provided to those drivers who required it. Every driver was brought in for a four-hour orientation. A safety committee was established consisting of drivers and managers and an annual fleet-wide safety meeting was scheduled where everything from a driver’s role in maintenance to the company’s current CVOR rating were discussed.

“My opinion is, whether the CVOR rating is good or bad, the drivers need to know what it is,” said Millian.

The company also instituted mandatory defensive driving training every three years.

Hensall developed a points-based system which assigns two to eight points to drivers who are involved in an incident. Progressive discipline is employed and the points system ensures all drivers are treated equally, Millian explained.

“Whether you like someone or not really shouldn’t have an impact,” he said.

A driver’s points are cleared after six months. Millian said drivers identified under the program as needing further training have improved significantly as a result and only two drivers have been dismissed or left the company.

Hensall District Co-op is evidence that a safety program can be implemented from scratch and in a relatively short time frame can begin delivering substantial results. In 2002, Hensall suffered an incident every 106,203 miles. That window has been stretched to 184,206 miles in 2006.

Just one year into the program, the fleet saw its CVOR violation rate slashed by about 66%. An MTO audit conducted in 2005 saw Hensall’s drivers score 74.4%, vehicles score 80.7% and the company score an overall mark of 79.8%. While Millian admitted there’s still room for improvement, he said the audit would have been catastrophic if conducted before the safety program was initiated.

Home Hardware is another private fleet that renewed its focus on safety in 2004 with the development of its Carrier Safety Management System.

Dennis Shantz of Home Hardware said the program was “designed to help us achieve continuous improvement.”

Part of the program involved including an accident kit in all company vehicles. It helps guide the driver through the steps to be taken following an incident.

“When a driver has been in an accident, he’s not thinking straight. This helps him think things through and to get the information to us and the insurance company,” explained Shantz.

As part of its safety program, Home Hardware began tracking things such as: vehicle speed; CVOR ratings; logbooks; breakdowns; and accidents. Log books are compared to GPS data to ensure compliance with Hours-of-Service regulations.

The fleet also implemented a computer program called Simply Safety which allows it to track accident information and identify patterns. As a result, Home Hardware found nearly 40% of all its accidents occurred while backing up. The company developed new back-up procedures which included turning off all radios, assigning a spotter and doing a walk-around before backing. As a result, backing accidents have decreased each year from 21 in 2003 to just nine in 2006.

Chad Robertson of Maple Leaf Consumer Foods says his company re-evaluated its safety program in 2003 to bring it in line with those of sister company Schneider. As a result of that evaluation, a national safety program was launched last year encompassing elements of both Maple Leaf’s and Schneider’s safety programs.

Robertson said the company identified equipment age as a source of many of its safety-related problems.

“Equipment age and fleet maintenance was a big issue,” he said, noting the fleet now turns over equipment more frequently than it used to. Maple Leaf’s average tractor age has decreased to just three years.

The company now requires preventive maintenance inspections every 25,000 km or 90 days for tractors and 20,000 km or 120 days for trailers. It keeps six mechanics busy manning a shop that now operates from 5 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. to ensure there’s always maintenance help available for drivers.

“We don’t want drivers going out with questionable things, we want to be proactive,” Robertson said. “We try to keep the equipment top notch – drivers have enough things to worry about out on the road.”

Maple Leaf provides assigned equipment whenever possible for its drivers. Its trucks are GPS-equipped and all drivers are provided with cell phones.

The company also launched a Safe Driver Recognition Program and it urges its drivers to participate in regional driving championships.

“If you don’t have driver buy-in, you’re wasting your time,” Robertson said.

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