IN A SHORT five years, Superior Carriers was able to fundamentally reshape its safety culture. It was a winning change that should generate dividends for many years to come.

By attacking safety issues in an all-out campaign, the Oak Brook, Illinois-based tank truck carrier was able to achieve some spectacular results. For instance, rollovers were reduced from a high of 10 in 2008 to zero in 2013.

The dramatic turnaround in the safety program helped earn the chemical hauler its first Outstanding Performance Trophy in the National Tank Truck Carriers annual safety contest for 2013. Superior Carriers, a wholly owned division of Superior Bulk Logistics, earned the award with an accident frequency of 0.382 accidents per million miles in the 40-90 million miles class.

In the NTTC annual safety contest, Superior Carriers also received the Grand Awards for Competitive Safety in the 40-90 million miles class and the Personnel Safety Contest, in which the company recorded 0.19 lost-time injuries per 100 employees. Randy Vaughn, Superior Bulk Logistics vice-president of administration and Responsible Care Coordinator, was named NTTC’s Safety Professional of the Year.

“The Outstanding Performance Trophy belongs to every employee at this company,” says Len Fletcher, Superior Bulk Logistics chief executive officer. “It was truly an honor to win this award among such an exceptional, large group of safe and competitive NTTC carrier companies. This award is testament to our company-wide values and safety commitment. For over 70 years, Superior Carriers has exemplified service and safety excellence while being one of the largest companies in the bulk truck carrier industry in North America.

“This trophy is so important to us that we sent a framed photograph of it to every terminal, and we asked every employee at each terminal to sign the photo. We put up banners celebrating the trophy at each terminal, and we gave each employee a watch commemorating the trophy win.

“Our safety program means everything to us. We don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Safety is a critical part of our risk management process, and it saves us money. It helps us be more competitive in the market.

Humbling award

Brian Nowak, president of Superior Carriers, adds: “We’re humbled to be among the best of the best with this award. This is the single most important moment for me in my years with this industry. What an honor this is for our entire organization. Winning this trophy was a total team effort. I cannot overstate the extent of our appreciation to all of our employees and contractors—especially our drivers.

“The most critical thing we do is keep our people safe. And we owe it to the communities we drive through to safeguard our natural resources and the public health. Finally, our quality commitment to our customers mandates that we practice exemplary safety at their locations and with their products. With customers requiring more root cause analysis and process improvement, they are our true safety partners.

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“We are active with many of our customers in the American Chemistry Council’s Responsible Care program. We have regular audits, a commitment that we believe helps reinforce our safety culture. We live the Responsible Care objectives every day.”

Gary Watt, Superior Bulk Logistics senior vice-president and chief marketing officer, says: “We were delighted to receive this award. Congratulatory messages came in from many of our customers, and special mention was made from the podiums of two industry conferences I attended in the past couple of months. This further underscores the importance this award garners in the bulk logistics community.”

Vaughn says the trophy and being named NTTC Safety Professional of the Year were great honors. “I believe deeply in the safety culture and it is part of my life,” he says “I work with an exceptional team, and as a team they contributed significantly to installing and presenting the training for the programs I introduced to our safety culture. Our drivers, especially, played a vital part in our winning this award.”

First steps

The first steps toward winning the trophy started in 2008, the year Vaughn was hired as director of Environmental Health, Safety, and Security for Superior Bulk Logistics. He acknowledges that during the interview for the position, former Superior Carriers President Bill O’Donnell said the carrier would very much like to win NTTC’s Outstanding Performance Trophy for safety.

The company that Vaughn joined is one of the largest in the tank truck industry and one that is still privately held. Superior Carriers is the chemical and hazardous materials hauling side of the Superior Bulk Logistics operation. On the foodgrade side is Carry Transit.

Founded in the 1940s, Superior Carriers generates about 75% of the parent company’s revenue with operations across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. “We’ve been in Mexico close to 20 years, the last 11 with our partner Transpormex,” Nowak says.

Superior Carriers employs about 740 drivers (company employees and owner-operators) and operates roughly 740 tractors and 1,300 tank trailers. Drivers and vehicles are dispersed among 32 US terminals, 10 of which have wash racks. The company provides service from 25 SuperFlo transload sites, three of which are in Mexico.

“We’ve built a strong operation,” Nowak says. “We’re optimistic about the economy throughout North America—especially in the energy sector—and we have aggressive growth plans. Our customers include the major chemical producers, as well as specialty chemical companies. Many of these companies are involved in plant expansions now, especially along the I-10 corridor.”

Safety culture

Safety has always been important for the company. “We didn’t have any big safety problems, but we knew we could get better,” Watt says. “Our program was driven by the safety department, and we realized we had to involve all of the employees to move to the next level.”

Vaughn adds out that it is one thing for the safety department to talk about safety. It’s quite another to get full employee buy-in.