WHEN the American Trucking Associations (ATA) named Sinclair Trucking Company as the recipient of the 2004 President's Trophy in the category of small fleets, managers at the Salt Lake City, Utah, company felt their safety program once again had proven itself.

But they didn't waste time enjoying the limelight — they set to work finding even more ways to improve.

“We don't want our drivers to take safety for granted and neither do we want other employees to become complacent,” says Danny Hansen, truck operations manager.

Sinclair Trucking, a division of Sinclair Oil Corp, transports gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, heating oils, propane, and asphalt west of the Mississippi with operations centralized in the western United States.

Petroleum products are transported to and between the three company-owned refineries, to and from several pipeline facilities, to product distributors, and to many company-owned retail gasoline stations.

The company has 12 terminals located in Salt Lake City; Flagstaff, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Des Moines, Iowa; Kansas City, Kansas; Minneapolis, Minnesota; St Louis, Missouri; Omaha, Nebraska; Shawnee and Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Casper and Sinclair, Wyoming.

Overall effort

The carrier was judged to have the best overall safety programs and records of safety initiatives among the entries in the ATA National Safety Contest sponsored by Great West Casualty Company. The 2004 honor was the second time in seven years that the company had taken home the trophy. Sinclair was in the category for operations less than 25 million miles annually.

The comments from ATA upon the carrier winning the award reflects the Sinclair Trucking's dedication to safety: “Sinclair requires good safety practices through all levels of the company. Managers are required to do 12 ride-alongs with drivers each year to both observe and learn proper safety practices. In addition, any perceived need for safety re-training is granted, no questions asked.”

Reinforcing safety procedures is the mantra of the company because managers are committed to the philosophy that without consistent reminders, employees are susceptible to human errors that result in accidents.

“Our safety standards are pretty high,” says Hansen. “Our policy is safety and service, in that order. It has really paid off for us.”

In 1997 the company introduced a new safety program that included 12-one-hour safety meetings and one eight-hour meeting annually for all employees. Makeup safety meetings are scheduled for employees who miss the regular meetings to make sure that every employee is included.

Topics at the meetings range from discussing a vehicle's equipment — to understanding hazardous materials — to industrial safety.

As is often the case, employees bring their own topics to the meeting where discussion is encouraged.

Each terminal conducts its own training, says M J “Mac” McDonald, Tulsa terminal manager. “It's extremely important that training is employee-interactive. I really like to see that the conversation in the classroom is two-way between personnel and instructors.”

Training material

Among the materials used in driver training are programs provided by JJ Keller and ATA, as well as training modules that were created in-house. Subjects covered include night driving, movement of liquid product in tank trailers, slip and fall prevention, Department of Transportation regulations, health and safety, and company policies, to name a few of the topics.

Drivers are trained in the use of material safety data sheets, hours-of-service calculations, and hazardous materials guides — as well as loading and unloading procedures. In 2004, the goal is to train all employees for the ATA Highway Watch program.

Emphasis is placed on handling flammable products, corrosives, and products with elevated temperatures. All drivers eventually become qualified to handle all products Sinclair transports.

Drivers are trained to use Xata Corp onboard computers with in-cab touch screens. The system monitors fuel and braking, engine operation information, and hours of service. It also provides interactive messaging between drivers and dispatchers.

New hires are trained at one of the central terminals with three days spent in the classroom before beginning on-road training with a driver instructor. New hires return to the classroom for further training throughout the year.

The carrier has updated its training so that drivers are especially cognizant of the growing menace of road rage and ways to respond. They learn about the demands required as a result of market supply and demand inherent in petroleum transportation. Sudden demand can complicate scheduling and prompt long lines at loading racks.

Training also employs a “reach out and touch” philosophy, such as feeling lug nuts to be sure they are tight.

“The idea of reaching out and touching something during a pre-trip or post-trip inspection actually causes drivers to focus their attention on a specific action,” McDonald says. “Drivers will have a lot nicer day if they conduct a thorough inspection before they leave the terminal.”

Manager meetings

To tweak and update the safety program, managers meet annually for more discussions on hazmat training and reinforcement. A committee of managers also direct the company's Pride Program, a safety initiative developed as part of the overall safety activity.

“We use this program to emphasize our commitment to safety and service,” says Hansen.

The Pride Program includes a logo that is used on signs, brochures, mugs, and hats.

“The Pride Program is just one more way we remind employees to think about safety,” Hansen says.

Safety managers also are active in state trucking organizations and take advantage of the information available. Drivers also participate in association-sponsored driving contests.

McDonald says the interaction with other safety directors pays off. “When it comes to safety, it just about does away with competition among us,” he adds.

Vehicle maintenance

Also part of the safety program are well-maintained vehicles. Four terminals (Tulsa, Sinclair, Casper, and Denver) have shops that perform a wide range of vehicle maintenance and repairs.

Sinclair operates petroleum and acid tank trailers supplied by Beall Corp, Polar Corporation, and Heil Trailer International. Asphalt trailers are from ED Etnyre & Co, and propane trailers are from Mississippi Tank Co.

Trailers receive PM inspections and service at 5,000 miles or 30 days, whichever comes first. Tractor preventive maintenance is conducted at 5,000 miles and 10,000 miles.

The Freightliner tractors with Cummins and Detroit Diesel engines have long life as a result of the maintenance emphasis, Hansen says. The company typically keeps them in service for 10 years.

Company history

The focus on well-maintained equipment is just part of the safety story with Sinclair. The safety program has long been one of the company's top priorities, begun by owner Earl Holding when he acquired the company in 1976. In addition to the fleet, the parent company operates pipelines, refineries, hotel and resort properties, and truck stops.

Sinclair Oil Corp originally was formed in 1916 from the assets of 11 small petroleum companies. Dino, the company's brontosaurus logo, was added to advertising, sales promotions, and product labels in 1930, and became a registered trademark in 1932.

Today, in addition to Dino, Sinclair Trucking features an eagle as the symbol for its safety program and customer service — an apt way to emphasize the carrier's soaring commitment to vigilance and pride.