In his role as director of safety and compliance for Canadian hauler Erb Transport, Tom Boehler stresses matters of safety on a daily basis. It’s a message he’s been preaching for a long time, the importance of which was driven home to him during the early stages of his career when a driver came out of traffic and went under his pup trailer.
“Erb has been very supportive when I bring things in to them and say, ‘We want to do this because it will reduce accidents, keep our premiums down, ensure everyone gets home safely, and here’s our return on investment,’” Boehler noted. “I’ve never had to set up budgets for safety and there have been very few that we presented that were ever turned down.”
Boehler has been so steadfast in his drive to reduce accidents that it’s had a measurable impact on the company’s bottom line — to say nothing of the health and wellness of the workforce. In June, he was named Truckload Carriers Association’s 2021 TCA Safety Professional of the Year — Clare C. Casey Award recipient. The announcement was made during TCA’s 40th annual Safety and Security Meeting in St. Louis.
He said the successes in his career have been anchored by keeping his eye on the big picture and drilling down from there to address the real issues.
“People seem to get so hung up on thinking compliance is safety, and it’s not,” Boehler explained. “Some companies are in compliance, but it’s always reactive. It takes building trust with your employees and having them provide input and feeling as though they’re part of the process to create sustainable safety.”
While Erb Transport has had a safety division dating back to the 1980s, it was more recently that the company began to look into a way to train and license its own drivers. Boehler was given responsibility for bringing the important new program to fruition.
“We’re a recognized authority in Ontario, meaning we can license our own drivers with (Canada’s) Ministry of Transport,” he said. “So, I put together the training program and how we would train and license drivers. It became kind of a benchmark for other carriers to use to get their driver certification program with the ministry.”
Boehler also turned his attention to deciphering an odd pattern of accidents that had plagued the company for decades.
“When we look at our high-cost accidents, about every five years we had this hump in there,” he said. “It was hard to tell why just by the accidents because it was hard to place what the true cause was. Around 2014-2015 we started to see that climb again, and I wanted to know why. Why is this all of the sudden changing?
“In about 2016-2017, I was approached by Lytx, and we ran a pilot where we were one of the first ones in Canada to start running dash cams,” Boehler continued. “We were a little leery about doing this, as we’ve always been on a curve trying stuff. Once we started seeing the videos and what the true cause was, we could see those trends starting and get ahead of it.”
The technology drove down accident-related costs by 60%, but what separated the tactic from a “spy cam” operation is the lengths that Boehler and upper management went to get driver buy-in. It’s an extension of his cooperative philosophy that’s been in play at Bison since Day 1.
“We get together every month, we talk about health and safety and the regular inspections,” Boehler said. “But we also talk about what are the health and safety concerns on the road, on the dock, and (ask) ‘What do you guys think we should do about them?’
“If they have ideas, we listen. And if they have no idea, well, (we say) ‘Here’s some ideas we’re thinking of. Would you guys pilot this and give us your feedback?’” he shared. “When you start doing that, and they talk to their peers and have that open communication flowing, employees feel they’re a part of safety; not just being told to do safety. There’s better buy-in.”
Boehler earned additional points by easing up on punitive measures in favor of coaching and teaching, when appropriate.
“For years, compliance meant you always had to write a person up, put a note in,” he said. “One of the first thing I did was say, ‘Let’s do some more coaching.’ And if we feel we’ve coached and trained a person enough, let’s ask, ‘Is it an honest mistake?’
“If you’re driving 50 over, weaving in and out of traffic, that’s reckless behavior. You know better, and that’s when we’re definitely going to get into progressive discipline,” he explained. “But up to that point, we’re going to coach to the nth degree and sometimes, maybe we’ll give them minor refresher training again. By not just harping on compliance and telling them they have to do something without their buy-in, we gain their trust, and that inputs into safety.”
That accident early in Boehler’s career? It was a fatal accident, one which strongly drove home the importance of safety to the young driver, eventually leading him to dedicate himself to his safety-focused career and earn the 2021 TCA Safety Professional of the Year — Clare C. Casey Award.
To learn more about the award process and how you can nominate a deserving safety professional, visit truckload.org/safety-professional-of-the-year.
The Truckload Authority News Staff, comprised of award winning journalists and graphic artists, produces content for Truckload Authority, working in cooperation with the Truckload Carriers Association staff. Truckload Authority aims to keep TCA members abreast on the latest trends in the trucking industry as well as articles that feature TCA member executives and drivers. The Truckload Authority staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.