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Bison’s Pitzel explains how all fleets can create a safety culture

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Last year was a particularly good one for Bison Transport’s director of safety and driver development, Garth Pitzel.

In 2016, he got to honor the company’s first ever driver to complete three million consecutive accident-free miles. Bison also reached 39 drivers in total to hit two million consecutive accident-free miles and for the sixth year in a row it won the Truckload Carriers Association’s (TCA) National Safety Award grand prize.

As an organization, Bison is one that isn’t faking its safety success. It has won more safety awards than any other carrier in Canada and the US and is widely known as the safest fleet in North America.

So how does Bison do it? That was the focus on Pitzel’s educational session at this year’s TCA convention that ran from March 26-29. He took attendees through how Bison has cultivated an unrivaled safety culture over the years, and how other fleets can do the same.

Counselling vs. training

“There’s a big difference between counselling and training,” Pitzel said. “Counselling is teaching someone something they already know and training is teaching someone something they don’t know.”

Understanding this difference is one of the main reasons why Bison stands out from the competition, Pitzel explained.

“We don’t have operations people dealing with safety stuff. We have our own counsellors that deal with safety,” he said.

Bison’s counsellors are there to help drivers be the best they can be. They learn things like motivational interview techniques, so they don’t discourage drivers or make a safety discussion feel uncomfortable, Pitzel said.

“Sometimes safety discussions can be a bit hot under the collar…but we don’t have those discussions,” he said. “It really is, here’s the scenario, what occurred, and what are we going to do to change that behavior?”

From there, the counsellors identify the root cause of the issue and determine whether the driver needs counselling or needs new training.

“That has been an absolute important part of what we do,” he said. “We’ve had many drivers come in and talk to the counsellors, and now they’re telling is over the phone about issue even before we go to them with a problem.”



Bison doesn’t believe in a “three strikes and you’re out policy,” Pitzel said.

Instead, it focuses on retention and keeping those drivers around, because they are better from a risk perspective.

“If you’re talking about people…you should support a person when they’re in the worst situation,” he said. “We have drivers who have had major accidents and they’re still with us. I always say to my staff…we know this driver, we know their strengths and their weaknesses but if I don’t have that driver here, I have to hire a new driver and I don’t know their strengths and weaknesses.”

To prove that, Pitzel told a story of a Bison driver who had a negative attitude and how Bison went about changing it.

“It was 11 years ago and I’m direct…I told him, ‘You’re not going to make one million accident-free miles.’ He told me he’d prove me wrong. And I said ‘I hope you do.’ And he did…but then 20,000 miles later he got into a major rear-end collision.

“I called him into my office and I said, ‘Okay what do we need to do for you?’” Pitzel said. “And he was shocked. But just a year-and-a-half ago I got to phone him congratulating him on his second million mile award. And he told me, ‘The first million was by luck, the second million I earned.’ And if it wasn’t for that continual discussion and commitment to retention, we wouldn’t have that million mile driver in our business today.”



Recognition is the simplest part of creating a safety culture, Pitzel said.

“If you look at when we made all of these changes…that’s what we started first. In 1999 we started recognizing safe driving miles.”

And when you hit one million accident free miles with Bison, they make a big deal out of it.

“We give them a personal phone call, a certificate, a jacket,” he said. “At two million, we bring them into the office for a special presentation. And again, those phone calls are the best thing that I get to do because the impact those personal calls have is unbelievable.”

Pitzel advised that adding a personal touch doesn’t go unnoticed either.

“I do not stamp those certificates,” he said. “I personally take the time to sign each and every one. I’ve had many drivers see me at 8 p.m. in my office signing the certificates. Those are the little things that support the safety culture and make our drivers excited to be safe and that’s them just doing their job well.”

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