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Sound Safety Practices are Not Optional

Goodwin made his remarks to an audience of 160 people at the first ever Markel Safety and Innovation National Conference, which was held June 15-16 at the Doubletree International Plaza in Toronto, Ont.


Goodwin made his remarks to an audience of 160 people at the first ever Markel Safety and Innovation National Conference, which was held June 15-16 at the Doubletree International Plaza in Toronto, Ont.

One of the areas most in need of innovation, and one of the primary focuses of the conference, is safety.

“Even though the number of accidents on the roads is decreasing the severity of them is increasing,” said Goodwin.

“If you don’t make safety a personal issue then you’ll fail at making a safe company or a safe industry,” said Steve Piwowarski, division manager, State of Maine FMCSA, U.S. DOT.

The U.S. Department of Transportation is taking on some initiatives to further safety awareness, said Piwowarski, including entry program safety audits, Hazmat compliance programs and security contact visits, as well as a seatbelt awareness program and a new Data Q initiative on the DOT Web site. Such things should not be considered optional for companies, added Piwowarski, and all carriers should have a list of things they want their drivers to comply to.

Best practices

“Safety is a product of running a good business and if you start with regulations and rules, how can you go wrong?” asked Piwowarski.

Communication plays a key role in safety, he said. Good managers don’t want employees to be afraid to raise safety concerns so it’s important to break down communication barriers within a company.

The best way to make safety a personal issue is to get testimonials from people who have been through accidents or severe situations in the workplace, said Jim Little, vice-president of quality and training for Mullen Transportation, who has developed a series of workplace safety videos based on true events.

Driver hiring practices is the start to a safe operation, Piwowarski said.

“We give $220,000 worth of equipment to people we don’t really know – we assume a lot, we assume too much,” he said.

Piwowarski suggests doing exit interviews and file reviews when a driver leaves the company to identify and learn from problems. Also, hypothetical situations and soft skill predictors during interviews can indicate how drivers would deal with safety related issues when faced with them on the job.

The amount of care put into driver training programs directly correlates to the amount of care that drivers will take with their jobs, equipment and safe practices.

“If employees feel valued and there is good company morale, results will be better,” said Piwowarski. “It’s incredible how simple it is to change a behaviour by positive re-inforcement and putting a positive spin on negative events.”

It is not a mystery that the carriers that take note of best hiring and training practices are the carriers that perform well, he added.

Carrier successes

“The most valuable lessons I’ve learned in this business, I’ve learned from my drivers,” said Michel Lapointe, hiring, training and risk management director for Danfreight Systems.

Management needs to understand the perception of the drivers and know what the reality is and believe in its ability to align the two, added Lapointe.

“It’s not only figuring out what the drivers’ needs are, but it’s asking the drivers what the best way is to get there,” said Lapointe.

Building good relationships within the company right away goes a long way in driver retention and in turn contributes to a safe operation.

“I needed to have a clear understanding of where I was going with the company and where I am currently,” said Lapointe, “and the best way to see how you’ll get there is past history.”

A company needs to do everything possible to retain drivers, said Lapointe, because if you have talent of 10 to 15 years walk out the door, you have to take it seriously. So you need to educate and train everyone in the company how to deal with your drivers.

“If we don’t retain our experienced drivers, who will be able to pass on the heritage and the experiences?” asked Lapointe.

Everyone in the company needs to be part of the solution because if they aren’t, said Lapointe, they are probably part of the problem.

“It would only take 30 seconds for a middle manager to ruin months and months of work with drivers, so the entire company has to fit the profile and understand the philosophy,” Lapointe said.

Mark Seymour, president and CEO of Kriska Holdings, agrees.

“There is great power in going to the field and asking questions of employees and customers,” said Seymour.

Over the past year, Kriska implemented a strategic planning process, which Seymour explains is a constant evolution.

“We adopted a customer segmentation practice based on loyalty, payment history, operational impact, safety and profitability,” said Seymour. “We rated our customers from A to D and communicated this to our staff and customers in hopes that our D customers would become C customers and so on.”

The customer segmentation plan was implemented so that staff would have a priority order when it comes to serving customers. It was a one-year project and, according to Seymour, it was well received and customers from all designated levels had positive things to say.

“We finished the first year encouraged so we now plan to review the segmentation and implement a more comprehensive rating system since this first attempt was a little elementary,” said Seymour.

Seymour asked a number of different employees to champion a segment of the process and it was a way of involving the entire organization and making things work more efficiently.

The trucking business is based on the simple idea of picking up product and delivering it from point A to point B on time and damage-free, said Greg Rumble, president and COO of Contrans Income Fund, but the challenges come from issues, like human resource practices, that are associated with that function.

“The challenges we face are within the external environment but we haven’t been trained to deal with those,” said Rumble.

“We usually deal with them out of necessity. So we have to figure out what we need to do to stay on top of these issues and work with our customers.”


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