SEVEN Outstanding Safety Performance Trophies. It doesn’t get any better than that for a tank truck carrier.

Only one tank truck fleet can lay claim to that record, and that is Groendyke Transport Inc, founded 85 years ago this year in Enid, Oklahoma. Annually, the trophy goes to the tank truck fleet with the best overall safety record and program in the nation, and Groendyke Transport’s wins span more than 40 years.

Groendyke Transport won its first National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) Outstanding Safety Performance award in 1973, then called the Trailmobile Trophy. The carrier followed that first win with additional trophies in 1975, 1990, 1991, 1999, 2000, and now 2016. Today, Heil Trailer International sponsors the trophy.

“This is a profound accomplishment, and we are greatly honored to be the first and only seven-time winner of this prestigious award,” says Greg Hodgen, president of Groendyke Transport. “At Groendyke Transport, we consider safety a company value, and each and every one of our 1,300 employees played a crucial role in earning this incredible honor.

“Our employees are ecstatic about winning this seventh trophy, because they worked so hard to make it happen. It’s hard to win this trophy. The good things done by tank fleets usually don’t get many accolades. It’s mistakes that get a majority of the attention. So, we are making a big deal about this trophy.

“It is especially rewarding to earn this trophy at the same time Groendyke Transport is celebrating its 85th anniversary. In recognition of the effort invested by everyone at this company, all employees who were here for the entirety of 2016 will receive a custom-crafted ring as a reminder of what they achieved. We also have other things planned to celebrate both the trophy and the anniversary.

“We hope to add more Outstanding Safety Performance Trophies in coming years. We want to be a contender for the trophy in our mileage category every year, because that means we are doing our job to protect our people and everyone else on the road. Importantly, this award sets Groendyke drivers, and NTTC carrrier drivers, apart from the rest of the trucking industry.”

Mike Elmenhorst, Groendyke Transport safety director, added that the Outstanding Safety Performance Trophy offers proof that Groendyke Transport is a very good tank truck carrier. “I wanted to do backflips when I heard we had won,” he says. “It shows that our company commitment to safety is working, and that we have the right drivers and the right programs in place.”

Team effort

The safety program built by the Groendyke Transport team earned the carrier its seventh trophy in what is now the Harvison Division, which is for tank truck fleets running more than 15 million miles a year. Elmenhorst was named NTTC Safety Professional of the Year for the Harvison Division.

The carrier competed in the 40- to 90-million mile category within the Harvison Division and achieved an accident frequency of just 0.373 accidents per million miles.

Established in 1932 by Harold C Groendyke, the company has grown into one of largest tank truck carriers in the United States. Harold Groendyke’s son John D Groendyke is currently the company’s chairman and chief executive officer.

The carrier operates more than 900 tractors and 1,440 trailers. With 29 terminals in 11 states, Groendyke Transport provides service to 49 US states, Canada, and Mexico. The company runs roughly 75 million miles annually, transporting more than 440,000 loads--mostly hauling bulk liquids including refined fuels, lube oils, asphalt, and specialty chemicals.

Safety stability

Over multiple decades, the carrier built a very stable safety organization, with just five safety directors in 60 years. Elmenhorst’s predecessors included Clarence Shelton, who served in the position from the late 1950s to 1974. Bill Knight followed from 1974 to 1994, and was succeeded by Steve Niswander (1995-2016). Chris Pape, now training director, was safety director from 2009 to 2014.

The winning safety strategy that evolved over the years includes hiring the best of the best truck drivers and taking a pioneering role in the use of technology for safety and driver development. The carrier takes great pains to ensure that a consistent, coherent safety message is communicated across the company.

“Several years ago, we changed the way we talk about safety,” Hodgen says. “We no longer speak of safety as a priority, as that can change on a whim. It is now seen as a value in our operation, and values don’t change. We learned the importance of making safety a value—maybe seven years ago—when we benchmarked our operations against an American Trucking Associations safety trophy winner.”

The safety commitment starts at the chairman’s office, and the message is continually reinforced at all levels. On the driver side, the message starts in earnest during the selection process. Despite the industry-wide driver shortage, Groendyke Transport relies heavily on its hiring process. If anything, the carrier has made the process more robust.

“We don’t cut corners on driver selection, and this isn’t a place for novice truck drivers,” Elmenhorst says. “We typically get very experienced drivers, and probably 40% of them have tank experience. Many drivers apply because of Groendyke’s commitment to safety. Going forward, we do want to improve our recruitment of younger drivers.”

During the new-hire process, each applicant goes through personality testing that is used to give management better insight on a driver’s ability to be part of the Groendyke system. New hires also are evaluated to determine weak areas that need additional training.

Reviews are scheduled as needed, based on driver performance, but at a minimum no less than annually. “We carefully analyze every accident or incident to determine whether a driver can be salvaged with retraining, correction, and coaching,” says Pape. We don’t want to just get rid of an experienced tank truck driver.”

Constant training

Following the selection process comes four days of mandatory new hire training, the first three days of which are conducted at the safety training center in Enid during their first 90 days. A fourth day of initial training takes place at a driver’s home terminal, and all drivers receive mandatory in-cab training.

The first speaker at the first day of training in Enid is David Snapp, chief operating officer; Hodgen; or other senior executives. “We tell our new drivers that this isn’t an easy job, and we expect a lot out of them,” Hodgen says. “We expect them to drive protectively and help other motorists avoid accidents. It’s not just defensive driving. Finally, we tell them that we expect them to help us win another NTTC Outstanding Safety Performance Trophy.”

It isn’t just drivers who attend the initial orientation. It applies to all personnel, so the same message is heard throughout.

“We want to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to our safety message,” Elmenhorst says. “Dispatchers can’t compromise safety just to get a load delivered. In addition, they need to understand how to listen to a driver to clearly determine when there is a problem. Dispatchers must be engaged.”

Driver selection, evaluation, and training involve a team of field safety supervisors who report to Elmenhorst. They meet with terminal managers on driver selection, and they make it a priority to ride with drivers. Each terminal also has two or more driver instructors.

Groendyke Transport also keeps drivers on message through monthly safety meetings and the use of a proprietary mobile app that helps them work more efficiently and stay informed of news across the company.

Safety technology

In addition to a well-structured safety team and meticulous driver training and management processes, Groendyke Transport benefits from an array of vehicle safety systems such as collision mitigation, lane departure detection, and air disc brakes that are standard on all new equipment. The carrier is moving to a fleet with tractors no more than five years old, ensuring the company provides drivers with the latest technology.

“We’re investing approximately $10,000 per tractor-trailer combination for safety technology,” says Brian Gigoux, Groendyke Transport vice-president of equipment and maintenance. “We want to put the safest possible equipment on the road.

“Once we recognized the safety benefits these components provide, we never looked back. Air disc brakes are here to stay, for instance. And we won’t specify a new tractor without collision mitigation since that technology clearly supports our safety-first philosophy.

“Safety is a culture woven throughout our company at every level, with every employee, and we talk about it every day, every hour, every mile. On your first day of employment, you’ll hear that safety is paramount--and it’s the number one thing we do. It’s a lot of hard work, but without a doubt, it’s our foundation.”

The carrier has been specing tractors with Bendix and Meritor roll stability systems since 2005. Bendix and Meritor collision mitigation technology was added more recently.

“At the end of this calendar year, about 52% of our fleet will have collision mitigation systems, lane departure warning, and side object detection,” Gigoux said. “And we’re definitely seeing a positive impact. Just like we can absolutely quantify a reduction in rollovers compared to our days before stability technology, we can see that the collision mitigation systems have prevented a number of potential accidents.

“To get the most out of the technology, we have an in-house collision mitigation system training course that our drivers go through, so they can better understand what the system does and how it reacts to various situations. And once they’re on the road, we continue using the systems as a coaching tool, using the information provided through SafetyDirect. We know we have excellent drivers behind the wheels of our trucks. These systems simply assist them in becoming even better, and help in preventing even a great driver from having a bad day. And the drivers developed an appreciation for that.”

SafetyDirect by Bendix CVS wirelessly and automatically transmits real-time driver performance data and event-based information--including video--to fleet offices for analysis via a user-friendly web portal. Using the data generated by on-board safety systems, Groendyke Transport has enhanced its safety by addressing potential issues more quickly and accurately; from monitoring tire pressure and temperature to discussing events and alerts with drivers.

The newest tractors in the fleet include Kenworth T680 and Freightliner Cascadias models. The T680s have 455-horsepower PACCAR MX13 engines and Eaton Advantage automated transmissions, while the Cascadias are specified with 450-hp Detroit DD13 engines and Detroit DT12 automated transmissions. All of the tractors have Meritor drivelines. Product handling equipment includes Roper pumps on sleeper tractors and Blackmer pumps on daycabs.

New DOT406 petroleum trailers are being built by Mac LTT and Beall and have a 9,500-gallon capacity. Recent DOT407 stainless steel chemical trailer additions to the fleet have come from Brenner, Tremcar, and Polar with a capacity of 7,100 gallons. Trailer hardware includes Hendrickson Intraax suspensions and Jost aluminum landing gear.

With its dedication to continual improvement in safety processes and systems throughout the operation, Groendyke Transport leaves no doubt that it is very much in the hunt for Outstanding Safety Performance Trophy number eight. It could be next year, or the year after, or the year after…          ♦