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Fleets Share Secrets To Their Safety Success

TORONTO, Ont. - Canadian carriers are developing quite the reputation for safety. Just ask anyone who has attended the Truckload Carriers Association's annual convention the past few years, where Canu...

TORONTO, Ont. –Canadian carriers are developing quite the reputation for safety. Just ask anyone who has attended the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual convention the past few years, where Canuck fleets routinely placed among the association’s safest North American carrier members -often taking top spot.

Some of those same fleets were represented on a panel discussion called Why Canadian Carriers are Leading the Way in Safety at the Ontario Trucking Association’s annual convention.

Erb, MacKinnon, Bison and Kriska were all represented on the panel, which was moderated by Challenger CEO Dan Einwechter. In between good-natured pot shots at each other, executives from each of the companies explained that a safety program is an investment worth making -even in difficult times.

“We’re convinced, without a doubt, that from an image-enhancing standpoint, safety is one of the best investments we can make,” said Evan MacKinnon, president and CEO of MacKinnon Transport. While he conceded it’s difficult to place an ROI on safety programs, MacKinnon added “What is measurable is that our fleet insurance today is 45% less than it was in 2002.”

Likewise, Bison Transport president Don Streuber said his company has difficulty placing a dollar value on safety. However, he said the company’s training centre has played a major role in allowing Bison to achieve the lowest accident rate of all North American fleets running over 100 million miles per year, as measured by the TCA.

When times are tough and fleets look to trim costs, the safety program should not be compromised, the panelists agreed.

“I don’t think in a cost-cutting environment that we can afford to cut the cost of safety,” said MacKinnon. “We can’t say we’re not as serious about it in 2008 as we were a couple of years ago, because it’s so much work to get that ball rolling again. The effort to get the safety attitude going again if we stopped during hard times would be more money spent than if we just kept it going.”

Kriska Transportation president Mark Seymour admitted his fleet has altered its simulator training program, but not at the expense of its overall approach to safety.

“As things tightened up, we had to look at ways to reduce costs and we had to change our strategy,” said Seymour. “We didn’t mothball it. But we looked at the costs associated with our original strategy (which involved putting every driver through simulator training). Our commitment to safety didn’t change -it was the strategy we employed at that particular time.”

Cutting safety budgets during difficult times would be a mistake, the panel agreed, and so too is the relaxing of hiring standards that sometimes occurs when business is booming. A couple of the carriers admitted they had compromised their hiring standards in the past, in order to fill seats and appease customers. Einwechter said an uptick in Challenger’s accident rate served as a wake-up call that the company had relaxed hiring standards to keep up with customer demand, as recently as a few years ago.

“We had lowered our standards to have more drivers behind the wheel to move the freight and keep the customers happy,” he admitted. “Personally, I feel that maybe the driver shortage isn’t such a bad thing. We have the right drivers behind the wheel, driving safely.”

“I know it’s tempting to lower your standards when you have a bunch of trucks parked against the hedge, but every time we considered it, we’ve always regretted it,” agreed MacKinnon. “We’re further ahead to keep training, investing in the people we have until we can hire the right people. I know there’s a cost to putting an asset against the hedge, but there’s a greater cost to hiring the wrong individual.”

Besides, he added, hiring unqualified drivers is bad for morale right through the company and could even cause some of the best drivers to look for a new place to work.

“Our drivers get very disappointed if we lower our standards, so it’s just something we can’t afford to do,” he said.

There are some additional perks to being a carrier with a good reputation for safety. For one, “Good people want to work for good companies,” said Kriska’s Seymour. “If you want people to stay with your organization, it needs to be a safe place to work and if you want to attract people to your place of work, they need to be assured it’s a safe place to work.”

Carriers on the panel also noted they enjoy a healthier relationship with enforcement agencies, which leads to improved productivity. Streuber said some Bison drivers have reported being waved through inspection lanes because of the company’s stellar safety record.

MacKinnon added “Your overall safety record precedes you wherever you go. We try to show (inspection agencies) we’re working with them and trying to achieve the same thing they are. All our permits are in a binder – it’s neat and tidy so when we get called into the scale, we’re not dumping an envelope of crap out onto their desk.”

Another benefit of being a safe carrier is that equipment is usually better maintained, so the fleet enjoys a higher residual value at resale time. Wendell Erb, general manager of Erb Transport and Kriska’s Seymour said their company trucks often fetch above average prices at Ritchie Bros. auctions.

“The reason for that is very simple,” said Seymour. “Our repair and maintenance strategy is very inclusive of fixing things that are broken and replacing things that don’t work anymore, which is part of our safety culture.”

Drivers working for a safe fleet are also less likely to abuse equipment, added MacKinnon.

“When a driver is leaving the yard and the dispatcher says ‘Be careful out there,’ I don’t think they’re going to go out and rip and tear that gearbox,” he said. “It’s a matter of respect, we respect them and they return that by looking after our asset.”

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