Culture shock

by James Menzies

TORONTO, Ont. – LE Walker is one of those companies you feel safe sharing the road with. It enjoys a reputation as a safe and compliant carrier, but it hasn’t always been that way, admits Julie Tanguay, president of the family-owned fleet.

In an attempt to cash in on a booming industry, the company grew its fleet by 125% in 2003. Subsequently, Tanguay saw LE Walker’s CVOR rating climb to 44.8%. Driving along the highway one day, she noticed with disgust a tractor that was in poor condition. Her disgust turned to shame when she got alongside the truck and saw the LE Walker lettering on the side.

At that point, Tanguay says she was determined to achieve an excellent CVOR rating.

“We had become a ‘wink-wink’ trucking company,” she recalls. “You say you’re safe, you almost convince yourself you’re running legal and as long as the driver tells you he’s safe, you gave him another load.”

Tanguay was determined to instill a safety culture into her fleet and she began at the top by getting the consent of her shareholders. She then informed management of the changes in store and finally, the drivers. That was the point of no return, she recalls.

“Once I stood in front of the employees, I knew I was responsible for executing this strategy,” she says.

Transforming from a fleet with a mediocre safety record to one of the industry’s best is a daunting challenge, Tanguay admits. The company lost more than 20 owner/operators during its first few months as a zero-tolerance carrier.

“Lots of drivers were coming to me and their biggest complaint was that we preached quality of life, and now what took them four and a half or five days was taking five and a half to six days,” she says. “But we had to figure out a way to make money legally or we had to get out of this industry.”

LE Walker was forced to back out of some customer commitments, sacrifice some revenue and reduce its truck count in the name of safety.

Drivers were warned that by a certain date, there would be no more tolerance for running illegal. Their logs were monitored and compared to the company’s GPS data. Cheaters were squeezed out of the company one by one. Meanwhile, the company trained its drivers in the areas of trip planning, time management and even Hours-of-Service, demonstrating it was still possible to be profitable and compliant.

Despite the early challenges, the company is making strong progress towards its goal of being a fully-compliant carrier. LE Walker’s CVOR rating dropped from 44.8% to 23.5%. Its flatdeck division, Mid-America Freight Systems has seen its CVOR rating improve from an embarrassing 77.7% to 9.5% and logbook falsifications were down across the board.

Claude Robert, president of Robert Transport, has also instilled a culture of safety into his own operation and has dealt with many of the same challenges. He too was on-hand at the OTA’s annual convention to share some of his experiences. He appeared at the podium donning a hardhat, safety vest and a flashlight – essential tools for his employees.

“Nobody leaves without a flashlight that works,” he points out, noting drivers are unlikely to do a proper pre-trip without one.

Robert also numbers and personalizes each logbook its drivers carry. Robert is a well-known advocate of new technology and uses real-time data to track driver speed and HoS compliance. The fleet also has a committee that investigates every single incident or accident the carrier is involved in.

The company is also on the cutting edge of fatigue management and has installed cameras into some trucks which detect early warning signs of fatigue and warn a driver to pull over for a rest.

The key to running a safe fleet is to ensure everybody in the company buys into it, suggests Robert.

“Safety is a state of mind,” he says. “And it has to start at the top of your organization.”

Roger Levesque, president of Bruce R. Smith, says his company has made safety a priority through the use of electronic on-board computers (EOBRs). Initially, he admits, nearly all drivers resisted the installation of the black boxes – and some even left the company.

But soon after installing the systems, Levesque was shocked to learn the drivers that were traditionally thought to be among the best performers were actually the speeders and hard brakers. Hard braking is described as an incident where a truck reduces its speed by 11 km/h in one second, and Bruce R. Smith officials were surprised to see how frequently it was occurring in their fleet. In addition to identifying hard brakers and speeders, the company also uses the EOBRs to: bill for waiting time at shippers’ docks; assist in payroll; reduce idling; and investigate accidents and incidents.

Top driving speeds and idle time have dropped drastically since the EOBRs were installed, Levesque says. The company is still in the process of calculating its return on investment.

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