Building a winning safety program was no accident for 13-year-old Andrews Logistics Inc
If not the youngest, Andrews Logistics Inc certainly has to be one of the youngest tank fleets to earn the National Tank Truck Carriers top safety award. In business just 13 years, the carrier received this year's NTTC Outstanding Performance Trophy for its superb 2009 safety record.
Despite the carrier's youth, winning the NTTC award was no fluke. The management team of the Irving, Texas-based transportation logistics company developed and followed a very deliberate plan to build an award-winning safety program. It is a top-down effort that made safety the number one core value for the company.
“Winning the Outstanding Performance Trophy means a great deal to us,” says J Darron Eschle, chairman and chief executive officer of Andrews Logistics. “Despite the recession, we had a great year in 2009, and we never let up on our safety commitment. Safety is something we live and breathe at this company. We make that clear to every one of our employees.
“In the tank truck industry, safety can never be taken for granted. We serve liquid bulk shippers that believe safety must be a priority, and we're constantly looking for new and innovative ways to improve our safety effort.”
That safety commitment helped Andrews Logistics earn the NTTC's Outstanding Performance Trophy with a frequency of just 0.093 accidents per million miles. The carrier also was the Grand Award winner in the 10-13 million miles class of the NTTC 2009 Competitive Safety Contest and the Grand Award winner in the same mileage category for personnel safety. The carrier also earned a sixth-year certificate in the 2009 Improvement Contest.
Griff Odgers, Andrews Logistics' vice-president of safety and risk management, was named 2009 Tank Truck Safety Director of the Year during the NTTC Safety & Security Council annual seminar in April in Nashville, Tennessee. “Griff did an outstanding job of building the safety program at Andrews Logistics, and he certainly deserves this honor,” Eschle says.
In addition to the safety accolades on the tank truck side, Andrews Logistics also earned special recognition in the dry freight sector. The company was named Walmart/Sam's Club 2009 Truckload Carrier of the Year.
As an asset-based transportation logistics provider, Andrews Logistics handles both liquid bulk and dry freight cargoes. The company offers a broad range of logistics services, including dedicated contract carriage, contract warehousing, and freight management.
When Eschle started the company in 1997, the primary focus was on dry freight. Today, however, liquid bulk cargoes account for 70% of the company's activity, and dry freight makes up the remaining 30%.
Lube oils dominate the liquid bulk side, but the carrier also transports cryogenic liquid cargoes and some propane. “We're continuing to increase the liquid bulk activity,” Eschle says. “During 2009 we expanded our chemical hauling activity to include solvents and plasticizers.”
Transporting the liquid and dry bulk cargoes are 210 tractors and more than 400 trailers — tanks, dry vans, and flatbeds. Tank truck operations are conducted out of terminals in Dallas and Deer Park, Texas; Atlanta and Savannah, Georgia; Los Angeles and Richmond, California; Tampa, Florida; Hartford, Illinois; Canton, Ohio; and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Every tractor in the fleet is busy today, and Andrews Logistics is adding more equipment to keep up with demand. The company recently ordered 32 tractors just for expansion, and orders for replacement equipment are under consideration for the second half of the year.
“All of our equipment is running right now, and we need more trucks just to handle existing business,” Eschle says. “Our customers are expanding with higher production volumes and more marketshare. We're also working hard to line up new business. We believe we will see significant growth this year.
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“As activity grows going forward, we're sticking with customers that stayed with us through the recession. We need stable revenue so we can attract more drivers and pay for the new higher-priced equipment that we are buying.
“From a revenue standpoint 2009 was largely flat for us. As the recession took hold in late 2008, we lost a $10 million customer to bankruptcy. We knew 2009 was going to be a tough year, but we had already begun right-sizing our operation even before the failure of that large customer. By the end of 2009, we had replaced most of the lost business, and it turned into one of our better years as we got back to 2007 revenue levels.”
Even with the sharper focus on the bottom line, the management team at Andrews Logistics never lost sight of the safety objective. “We knew we couldn't let up on our safety effort,” Eschle says. “Regardless of other issues, a tank truck carrier can't take its eye off safety. If you do, you're going to have accidents or incidents, and you are on your way out of business. Little events can snowball into major catastrophes.”
As 2009 progressed, it became clear that Andrews Logistics was turning in an excellent safety performance. “We knew we couldn't take it for granted, but we started to sense that we were in the running for the NTTC's Outstanding Performance Trophy,” Eschle says. “It is, after all, a very competitive program.”
It is important to note that winning the Outstanding Performance Trophy became a management objective at Andrews Logistics as the company diversified from dry freight into liquid bulk cargoes. Management began to see trucking safety in a new light.
Eschle explains that he and Odgers came from the dry freight side. “Many on the dry freight side believe a satisfactory safety rating is enough,” Eschle says. “Liquid bulk shippers want a safety program that goes beyond that, and they take a much closer look at the overall fleet safety effort. In many cases, this includes annual safety audits.”
Andrews Logistics' safety program began its evolution to industry leader in 2003 when the company joined NTTC, and Odgers started participating in NTTC's Safety & Security Council activities. “I got a lot of help from the other tank fleet safety managers,” he says. “We run with some companies that have great safety programs, and it's very good company to keep.”
Odgers attended his first fall regional NTTC safety meeting in Houston, Texas, in 2004. The safety program had evolved steadily at Andrews Logistics, and the company participated for the first time in the NTTC annual safety competition in 2005 (2004 data). The company received its first Improvement Award that year and has earned an Improvement Award every year since.
In 2006, Andrews Logistics captured the Merit Award in its mileage category in the NTTC safety contest. “After the awards were presented that year, I told Darron that I wanted more than a third-place finish in the future,” Odgers says. “I had already decided in 2005 that I wanted that Outstanding Performance Trophy.”
Odgers explains that it's not all about the trophy. “Our goal is to build the best safety program in the tank truck industry,” he says. “Winning the trophy is validation that we are on the right track. It also reinforces our effort to build a strong safety culture within this company.”
The top-down safety focus means that every manager at Andrews Logistics is part of the program and has a responsibility for communicating the safety message to other employees. Managers were encouraged to become even more in the safety effort during a 2008 campaign.
“We encourage them to get out on the road and see how our drivers are actually performing,” Odgers says. “We require managers to do at least two field observations of drivers each month. These are written observations that are submitted to the safety department.”
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Terminal managers, in particular, are expected to take a very active role in the Andrews Logistics safety program. “We make it crystal clear that they are responsible for ensuring that our drivers run safe and legal, Odgers says. “Terminal managers are held accountable for that.”
Terminal managers also have a primary responsibility for monthly tailgate safety meetings, and driver attendance is mandatory. The corporate safety department sets a general monthly theme, but each terminal tweaks the program to meet local needs.
Drivers play a big role in organizing and conducting the local meetings. They help with the review of the previous month's safety performance, and they help make training presentations.
Corporate-wide training topics over the past year included distracted driving and other unsafe driving behaviors. While unsafe behaviors got much of the attention, positive behaviors also were addressed. Defensive driving sessions are conducted throughout the year. Andrews Logistics participates in NTTC's rollover training and awareness program, and drivers receive regular updates.
The NTTC's Outstanding Performance Trophy also garnered attention at some of this year's tailgate safety meetings. “We had a pizza party system wide to celebrate the trophy right after the award was announced at the NTTC annual safety meeting in April,” Eschle says. “Through the rest of the year, we're going to send the trophy around our entire terminal system. We want all of our drivers to know that they played an integral role in earning this trophy.”
Odgers conducts about three safety meetings a year at each of the 11 terminals in the Andrews Logistics system. Eschle also tries to visit each terminal during at least one safety meeting every year.
Regulatory compliance is a core focus of the safety program, because the Andrews Logistics management team believes that is where safe driving and work habits start. Specific elements of the program are tailored to each of the company's transportation activities — tank truck, dry van operations, and flatbed activity.
“We spent three years building this program, and we drew on best practices from many other trucking companies,” Odgers says. “Our own drivers are an important part of this safety management system. “We got their input on our safety manual, and they helped rewrite the manual. That is every bit as important as our top-down safety focus. Drivers took ownership of the safety program because they were part of the development process.”
Recently, the safety department has been preparing the company for the launch of Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's new fleet safety enforcement and rating initiative. CSA 2010 issues are already being covered in monthly safety meetings, and the company is already tracking its scorecard under the new Carrier Safety Management System that will replace SafeStat.
“We see this program as a game-changer for the trucking industry,” Odgers says. “It will have positive and negative impacts.”
On the positive side, Odgers says he likes aspects of the 2010 program assigning some safety ownership to drivers. CSA 2010 also should encourage drivers to take better care of equipment to avoid citations at roadside inspections. The downside is that the new federal program probably will make the driver shortage worse.
“Without question, we will use CSA 2010 as a hiring tool,” Odgers says. “The drivers with the best records under CSA 2010 will get the jobs at Andrews Logistics.”
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Andrews Logistics currently employs 215 drivers, roughly the same number it had before the recession. “We culled a few of our weaker drivers, but we replaced most of them with better candidates,” Eschle says. “We believe we employ some of the best truck drivers in the industry. We also believe we have people on board who appreciate making it through the bad times with us.”
Keeping turnover low is a key objective today at Andrews Logistics. “We're seeing a much tighter driver market this year,” Eschle says. “We're beginning to see a lot more challenges in driver hiring. Shortages of tank truck drivers are already very apparent, but quite a few drivers are still available on the dry freight side.”
Andrews Logistics wants drivers who have the qualifications and versatility to work in any part of the operation — tanks, vans, or flatbeds. In addition, anyone wanting to work for the company absolutely must embrace the safety program, and that requirement is made abundantly clear during the hiring process.
Beyond that, drivers must be at least 25 years old and have a minimum of three years over-the-road truck driving experience. “We also want tank experience, but we realize that we will probably need to recruit from non-tank driving sectors in the future,” Odgers says. “We'll have to offer higher pay and expanded training programs to attract people who are new to tanks.”
Newly hired drivers spend a day and a half to two in an orientation program that covers government mandated training and company policies and procedures. That is followed by one to three weeks of on-the-job training (OJT). “Among other things, the program is designed to weed out people with weak driving skills,” Odgers says.
A cadre of Master Driver Trainers handles OJT. Each Andrews Logistics location has at least one Master Driver Trainer, and no newly hired driver goes out on the road by himself until the trainer signs off.
Master Driver Trainers have worked at Andrews Logistics for at least a year and have more than five years truck driving experience. Trainers have a clean driving record with no roadside inspection violations and no preventable accidents. On average, a trainer works with five to six newly hired drivers a year and receives a bonus for each driver that stays with the company at least a year.
Andrews Logistics runs only company trucks, all of them Paccar products, and most purchased with rebates through the Consolidated Fleet Solutions buying program. In addition to the recent purchase of 32 tractors for expansion, the fleet follows a regular replacement schedule.
“Keeping our tractor fleet up to date is part of our safety program,” Eschle says. “It's important to run equipment that is in the best possible condition, and regular replacement also ensures that we have the latest technology. With CSA 2010, nobody will be able to run junk.
The fleet includes both Kenworth and Peterbilt tractors. Kenworth T800s were purchased in 2007 and Peterbilt Model 386s were bought in 2008. The 32 tractors ordered this year are Peterbilt Model 386s with 63-inch mid-roof sleepers.
The new tractors are powered by a 2010 Cummins ISX engine and have a Fuller 10-speed transmission and tandem-drive axles. Bendix roll stability is a key safety technology ordered on all new tractors. These are the first tractors that Andrews Logistics has ordered with Thermo King's TriPac auxiliary power unit that eliminates engine idling when the driver is in the sleeper.
Tank trailers in the Andrews Logistics fleet include aluminum MC306 and DOT406 units from Polar Trailer Inc, Heil Trailer International, and LBT Inc. These tanks typically hold 9,200 gallons of product and have four to five compartments.
Tank hardware includes Dixon Bayco's bottom-loading valves and FloTech overfill protection. Internal valves are from Betts Industries. The newest trailers have the Hendrickson Intraax air suspension system with Tiremaax inflation, Alcoa aluminum wheels, and Bridgestone tires.
The carrier also runs Polar stainless steel insulated chemical trailers. The 7,000-gallon trailers have Betts valves and Girard pressure-relief vents.
With its winning business model, Andrews Logistics is almost certain to continue growing and expanding. The company also plans to increase the number of safety trophies in its collection.