JOPLIN, Mo. — Meat and potatoes.
Ah yes, a menu that would make most any trucker pull over at the closest truck stop and head for the café.
But meat and potatoes mean more than food at Con-way Truckload.
They are key ingredients in the company’s safety strategy, an effort that culminated in a 22-year safety record in 2009 when the company announced it had reduced its total accident frequency rate 34 percent in the past five years.
By Con-way Truckload’s definition, the company’s drivers averaged 7.9 accidents per million miles driven in 2009.
The goal for 2010 is 7.5 accidents per million miles.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) defines a reportable accident as an occurrence that renders a vehicle inoperable or causes an injury requiring immediate medical assistance away from the scene.
By that standard, the company’s 2009 accident frequency rate was .628, or one accident for every 1.6 million miles driven, a 3.1 percent improvement over last year.
According to FMCSA standards, a carrier is operating safely when its accident frequency rate is less than 1.50.
“Safety has always been important to Con-way, but about five years ago, we decided to really put an emphasis on training and safety,” Randy Cornell, the company’s vice president for safety and recruiting, told The Trucker.
So to get close to the action, Cornell moved his office into operations.
“I worked in operations and co-mingled with about everybody there for about eight months,” he said. “My entire focus was just to generate awareness about safety. And that’s really where this five-year decline started. We’ve worked hard to make safety a part of everybody’s life, even the non-driving staff as well.”
Cornell said he got a real education during those eight months.
“You know operations is the key contact with our drivers. And what I learned more than anything was what to communicate to operations for operations to communicate with our drivers,” he said. “You know us safety guys can get a little anal and technical at times and talk about co-efficient of frictions and feet per second. Well, that doesn’t work in the operational world. They need meat and potatoes more than anything. I learned that more than anything working in operations.”
The message from operations employees was clear.
“They told me ‘you know what, Randy, give them the meat and potatoes. That’s what they want and that’s what they need and that’s what they’ll share with other drivers,’” Cornell recalled.
What Cornell found was that drivers want it plain and simple: things such as how many accidents did the company have yesterday; how many has it had this month and this year; what kind of accidents, in which fleet did they occur (Con-way divides its operations into fleets); and who’s having the accidents?
“So we set up a daily message and within that daily message communicated the things that are important to drivers and we salt and pepper that with safety information as well,” Cornell said.
It didn’t take long for drivers to return the communication.
“It used to be us trying to communicate with the drivers. Today’s environment is so much different,” Cornell said. “Now the drivers are calling us saying ‘I heard yesterday we had five accidents.’ So we’re getting feedback from the drivers and while a lot of it might be repetitive feedback, Joe in California doesn’t know that Bill in Florida called and said the same thing. But what it has done is create a general increased awareness in the company about safety.”
It’s important to keep safety in front pf drivers day in and day out.
One reason, Cornell said, is the increasing volume of traffic.
He labels that volume as the biggest threat the safety on the road.
“If you run down the middle of a football field and you put a quarterback on the sideline and say ‘try to hit me as I run down the middle of this football field,’ he has a certain percentage chance of hitting you,” Cornell said in painting an analogy. “Now, line up 50 quarterbacks on the side of the field and run down the middle of it, you have a much better chance of getting hit. And I think as traffic increases and congestion increases, you have more of a propensity to have an accident whether it be preventable or non-preventable. There’s more chance of having an accident simply because there’s more traffic on the road.”
And then there are the frustrations that truckers have to overcome.
“It [the type of frustrations] really hasn’t changed much over the years. It’s still the same things,” Cornell said. “Cars tend to cut drivers off, they tend to stop quickly in front of trucks; they stay in trucks’ blind spots.”
But despite all the frustrations, trucking has become safer over the years thanks to communication efforts such as those initiated by Con-way Truckload.
“I think overall in the trucking industry safety has taken on more awareness as you will just because of the things that drivers see out there,” Cornell said. “And the carriers have really worked hard to put safety at the forefront of everything that they are doing. And the numbers speak for themselves in regard to the safety on the highways as a whole in regard to trucking.”
Cornell had a price to pay for the safety record.
Con-way Truckload recently honored its drivers for their safety achievement in a ceremony at its headquarters here.
During the event, they watched a video of Cornell skydiving, a challenge from the drivers he had promised to undertake if they met their annual safety goals.
Whether any meat and potatoes were served at the celebration could not be determined.
But Cornell did make it safely to the ground.
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.