Ryder preaches safety. The Canadians lead the way.

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The use of spotters is a key strategy to reducing the threat of collisions in the yard.

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — The safety messages are found at every turn, usually in a bold red and black. There are reminders not to smoke, and the need to wear safety glasses and safety shoes. Lockout tags and keys hang from door handles to ensure vehicles are not unexpectedly started while someone is working underneath.

They’re the not-so-subtle signs of Ryder’s commitment to safety in this Mississauga, Ont., shop and beyond.

The messages are clearly being heard. Last year, Canada was identified as the company’s safest of four regions in North America. It’s not the first time operations on this side of the border have earned the honor, either. And a banner above a first aid station boasts a 2013 award given to the Ontario business unit for going a full year without a workplace injury of any kind.

Rob Welch, national safety and loss prevention manager for Ryder Logistics and Transportation Solutions

Rob Welch, national safety and loss prevention manager for Ryder Logistics and Transportation Solutions, credits the corporate culture. “It starts from the top down – our VP of operations, our president, everyone,” he says. “That makes our job easier.”

With some individual Canadian locations going a decade or more without recording an injury, one of the biggest challenges is to keep everyone sharp. “How would they know what to do if they’ve never had one?” Welch asks. It’s one of the reasons the safety team introduced regular drills, to ensure everybody knows who to call and why.

That has meant some unsettling wakeup calls for Welch himself. “I’ve got an injury …,” a caller begins on the other end of the phone, sometimes in the middle of the night. The word “drill” only comes after a brief pause. Then Welch can start breathing again. Like everyone else receiving such a call, he begins to list all the steps that would be followed in the event of a serious injury, and who has to be reached.

Nobody is given a chance to be complacent. Every shift begins with a few minutes to discuss safety alerts. Small magnets, which can be traded in for corporate swag, are handed out as rewards to those who are observed following proper procedures. And anyone who sees an unsafe situation is expected to intervene.

“If there’s an unsafe working condition, you have to take responsibility,” he says.

Mitigating risk

Every workplace in trucking presents some level of risk, of course. The idea is to identify those risks and take steps to mitigate them. When a recent annual injury report noted a rise in lacerations because of pinch points, for example, safety personnel introduced a focus on using protective gloves. Posters were mounted to encourage their use.

When bumped heads were identified as an issue, workers were given bump caps for working in pits or underneath any equipment. It’s the same reason why spotter mirrors, which stick out from fenders like sets of antlers, are now covered in foam “mitts” to ensure an added layer of protection.

Look back to the walls, and there’s a chart discussing how any component is to be handled, including the requisite equipment and operating procedures. Whether it’s a transmission, clutch and flywheel, fuel tank, or starter, there’s a procedure to be embraced. Work on a driveline requires a U-joint puller, for example, but also ratcheting tie-down straps. Jack stands are simply not good enough. And nobody is hauling around wheels and brake drums. Dollies are at the ready to handle such heavy lifting.

Housekeeping demands particular attention, too, especially in crowded locations like this one. Grease and slush has to be cleared off service bay floors with a Zamboni before other trucks roll through the bay doors. Unused creepers are tipped wheels up when not in use, so they’re unlikely to become unexpected tripping hazards or skateboards. “Put the hoses back when you’re not using them,” Welch adds, referring to what might otherwise be a tripping hazard.

Above all, there’s a commitment to taking the required time. A common theme of “take two” is echoed in training sessions and posters alike, encouraging workers to take two moments to identify potential risks before beginning a task.

While there are plenty of safety-related signs around the shop, it doesn’t seem overwhelming. Part of the reason is that almost nothing else clutters the walls. Everything seems to have a purpose. That’s by design, Welch explains. Paper the wall with too much information and it all becomes white noise.

Lines in the pavement that mark a distance of 15 feet from a fuel island, where drivers are expected to await their turn at the pumps.

Posted speed limits share space outside with a massive stop sign posted at a blind corner, and lines in the pavement that mark a distance of 15 feet from a fuel island, where drivers are expected to await their turn at the pumps. Every person walking through the area are clothed in reflective colors.

Everyone backing trucks through the bay doors is expected to have a spotter, and use the all-important three points of contact when climbing in and out of cabs. Welch points to one technician at the mouth of a service bay, asking a co-worker to serve as a spotter. He takes a moment to track them down and hand over one of the “caught working safe” magnets to signify a job well done, eliciting grins each time. Yard collisions have dropped dramatically since introducing that procedure, Welch notes.

Still, signs can be missed or forgotten. Welch is explaining the importance of 8 km/h speed limits in the yard when a customer’s truck goes by doing at least twice that rate. They’ll soon be hearing about that.

Safety procedures are not even limited to those who directly interact with equipment. One recent monthly business unit call focused on potential risks to sales teams – those who wear collared shirts and suits on the job. Someone noticed a salesperson who was directed to cut through a shop on the way to an office in a customer’s facility.  They took the long way instead. Now there are discussions about whether sales teams should carry safety glasses in their cars for such visits.

There’s no need for fall protection training, though. Ryder shops insist that technicians use scaffolding when working on reefers. Any job requiring higher positions is outsourced. “We’ve mitigated our risk there by not doing it,” he says. “Along the path and at the source, if we can’t do it, we won’t do it. There’s no such thing as doing it at all costs.”

The safety-related focus can vary, depending on the are of the country, Welch adds. In other words, a location in Dartmouth, N.S., might need to consider heavy snow when deciding whether repairs should be completed at the side of the road. Their counterparts in Edmonton might be more focused on whether teams have the right cold-weather gear to deal with the -35 Celsius chill.

But the safety culture remains.

Every person in the yard is wearing reflective apparel.

From the start

It all begins the first day new hires come through the door. Each of them faces two solid days of safety training, and are welcomed with a lockout and tagout kit, protective gloves, and safety glasses. They’re also teamed with buddies to absorb further insights on the shop floor.

There’s no re-training program, per se. Training programs would have to come to an end at some point to call it “re-training”. Here, the training never stops. Regular safety bulletins and videos require signatures after review. A white board at the office offers a daily safety message. This day it’s stressing that all slip and trip hazards which can’t be immediately addressed – such as potholes in a parking lot – should be communicated.

“Remember, if in doubt, take two,” the white board reads. “Work safely, think safely, go home to your family.” One Ryder facility has even included pictures of families and pets as a reminder to employees of why the focus never ends.

Welch has seen friends retire because their bodies simply couldn’t stand up to the rigors of a job anymore. It isn’t right, he says. A better goal is to ensure people can work long careers and retire healthy, just when the time feels right, rather than facing a crumbling body. Ryder employees are even encouraged to mention any strains that happened off the job, to ensure they are assigned work which doesn’t further aggravate the injuries.

“You never want to be that guy who comes to the door,” Welch adds, referring to a situation that might require managers to inform family members about an injured worker. Or worse.

An ongoing commitment to safety helps to protect against that.

The Big Six

One of the largest posters in Ryder’s shop area focuses on six key safety messages that could (and should) apply to any facility.

  1. Think safety first – Take Two. Three points of contact. Go out and look. See unsafe conditions? Report them!
  2. Keep it clean – A messy work area is a dangerous work area. Keep it tidy and hazard-free. Coil hoses. Wipe up spills.
  3. Check it out – Inspect everything before use, from equipment to tools. Ensure key control for safe maintenance.
  4. Exercise caution – Warm up for manual labor. Lift using your legs, not your back. Know your limitations. Ask for help.
  5. Drive carefully – Start vehicles from the driver’s seat. Buckle up. Pay attention. Stay off your cell phone while driving.
  6. Protect yourself – Use personal protective equipment whenever necessary – the appropriate gloves for the job, ice grippers, goggles, face shields.



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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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