LEADERS: Talking safety with Ryder’s Pushpa Poisson

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TORONTO, Ont. — Ryder Canada was recently presented with an Infrastructure Health and Safety Association (IHSA) safety achievement award, for recording an injury rate in its Canadian warehouses that was 25% lower than the industry average for three consecutive years.

That focus on safety extends beyond the warehouse, to professional drivers as well. Trucknews.com recently caught up with Pushpa Poisson, senior national safety, health and security manager for Ryder, to find out how the company’s driver training program is executed in the US and Canada.


TN: Ryder provides training for entry-level drivers as well as long-time experienced drivers. How do you approach these driver segments differently?

Poisson: The main difference is lack of knowledge versus bad habits. Our older drivers have a lot more knowledge, they have experience and the training we provide them with is to break bad habits. With the younger drivers, we’re not sure who they’ve been trained by. We can’t guarantee they’ve had consistent training, so they may take a lot of little shortcuts we have to work through.

TN: Which group is easier to train?
Poisson: I don’t think there’s one that’s easier or more difficult, each level of training has its own challenges.

TN: Do you train primarily for safety or fuel economy or both?
Poisson: We train for both.

TN: What’s the biggest mistake you see drivers making in terms of fuel economy?
Poisson: Excessive idling and (not using) progressive shifting are the biggest things we see, combined with speeding and hard braking. But most of it is the cost of idling, for us, and so we’re always encouraging our drivers not to idle.

TN: As far as shifting is concerned, are you spec’ing automated transmissions to help with this?

Poisson: We’re working with the shifting issues but for us, it’s more the idling issue.

TN: Do you provide training on idle-reduction equipment such as auxiliary power units?

Poisson: Anytime we add a new piece of equipment our driver would not be familiar with, we ensure our managers are trained, the safety department is trained and our drivers are trained. We’re always looking for what’s new in training for that piece of equipment. We never just attach something to the truck. We need to understand it and ensure we use it safely.

TN: Do you offer ongoing training to drivers who’ve been with Ryder for some time?

Poisson: We have an extensive training program within Ryder for our senior experienced drivers. We train constantly. We train on a monthly basis and on a quarterly basis. We have different topics chosen, based on what bad habits we see. The idea is, the more we train them, we want it to become part of their working memory, so that it becomes something they do on autopilot. Our drivers tell us when they’ve had a close call that they remembered what to do from the training we provided and that’s why they were able to avoid that collision.

TN: Do you get pushback from experienced drivers who may resent this ongoing training environment?

Poisson: Not really. Most of the time our drivers tell us they’re surprised we spend so much time on training. Within Ryder, we don’t have a lot of turnover. We actually have the opposite. We have a lot of drivers who want to work for us, not just because of our training program but because we have a very strong safety culture that we live and breathe. I’ve worked in many different industries and safety and training is something Ryder lives and breathes and they make time for it.

TN: Is your training program in Canada as comprehensive as in the US?
Poisson: We try to be consistent in the US and Canada.

TN: What types of training work best for you? In-cab? Classroom? Online?

Poisson: We have a combination of training. I don’t think I could say one is better than the others. For drivers who are on the road all the time, who don’t see a regular domicile, we do online training. We call it Pro-Tread. It’s a combination of safety training and Ryder policy and philosophy, so it gives them not just the basics of training, but also what Ryder believes in and expects of them. We try to have a quarterly team meeting, where we bring in all the drivers on a Saturday and train them. We do monthly handouts and a lot of different things to ensure they’re constantly getting the safety message.

TN: What benefits are you seeing from this investment in training?
Poisson: We’ve seen a decrease in collisions, but more overtly, a decrease in the severity. Our main collisions are now basically minor fender-benders.

TN: We hear all the time that the quality of driver applicants looking for an entry-level driving job has deteriorated. What percentage of applicants that you road test, actually get hired?

Poisson: About 10% of the people we road test get hired.

TN: Will you ever hire someone who may have a good attitude, but whose skills need work?

Poisson: It really would depend. I can’t say we’re doing that presently, but we are looking at what we can do for young drivers. That is something we are examining in Canada because of the shortage of qualified drivers. We’re looking for drivers that have potential, that we can train. We’re looking at how we can build a mentoring program within Ryder. We haven’t done it yet, but there is potential for the future.

TN: Despite all the training, what types of incidents or injuries remain problematic for Ryder?

Poisson: For us, it’s mostly getting out of the truck. But that is more of an age issue than a technique issue for us right now.

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