Awake at the wheel

Tom Lansing (right), vice president of safety and driver services, and Don Lewis, safety manager, implement the initiatives Hogan Transports’ management safety committee adopts.

On the last Thursday of each month, senior management of St. Louis-based Hogan Transports convenes to talk safety. The gathering is neither pep rally nor lip service. Rather, it’s an honest performance review that involves Hogan’s president, the heads of the safety and finance departments, insurance consultants and the top operations executives for Hogan’s dedicated and over-the-road ventures.

“The key to the whole safety program is the management safety committee,” says Tom Lansing, Hogan’s vice president of safety and driver services. Everyone provides input and fresh perspectives; a consensus reinforces the company’s commitment to safety throughout the operation, he says. That commitment helped Hogan take Grand Prize in the Truckload Carriers Association’s National Fleet Safety Awards for 2002.

The committee meetings typically cover what’s happened in the previous month – significant accidents, cargo claims, stolen equipment or cargo, workers’ comp experience, roadside inspections and reports of internal and third-party safety observations. The sessions are data intensive; charts and graphs abound. Managers look both for long-term trends and sudden, unexpected problems.

The committee develops new programs and drives changes in policy and approach. Several years ago, for example, managers wanted to enhance Hogan’s efforts to identify and correct bad habits before an accident happened, so the committee adopted the Hogan Observation Safety Team. Under the HOST program, a select group of drivers observes peers’ safety behavior – such as speed, following distance, signaling or maintaining three points of contact when entering or exiting a truck – and coaches them on proper technique. Hogan uses the information HOST drivers collect to track critical safety behaviors but not for discipline or enforcement purposes.

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Another initiative that demonstrates Hogan’s commitment to safety is the company’s winter weather shutdown policy. Each day from October through April, Don Lewis, Hogan’s safety manager, reviews weather throughout Hogan’s operation. If he decides the weather in a given area makes it unsafe to drive, he sends a fleetwide message, ordering a shutdown of operations in that area.

Many shutdowns have been localized, although once Lewis ordered one from St. Louis to Albany, N.Y. After Hogan declares a shutdown, the company notifies customers with affected loads of possible pickup or delivery delays. The safety of the driver, truck and load take precedence over schedule.

This “safety first” attitude also drives Hogan’s most unusual initiative: A system for managing driver fatigue.

“Fatigue has always been an issue, but the industry didn’t always recognize it in those terms,” Lansing says. In 2000, the carrier chalked up 23 accidents to fatigue. With the pace of fatigue-related accidents still high in early 2001, the management safety committee resolved to act.

As long as drivers remained within legal limits, Hogan’s management had generally considered them to be in the best position to judge their own readiness to drive. But the numbers showed otherwise. Clearly, drivers didn’t always recognize the signs of fatigue. Or, wanting to get miles or avoid a delay, they might not be honest about the quality of their rest.

In early 2001, the management safety committee discussed possible solutions. “Finally, it was [President] David Hogan who said that in order to continue to improve the safety of our drivers and the motoring public it was best to take the decision out of the driver’s hands,” Lansing says. So the committee decided to hire a fatigue supervisor to keep tabs on drivers who drove during late-night hours. He would have authority, if necessary, to order a driver to shut down and rest.

Hogan hired Jim Lager as fatigue supervisor in late May 2001. Lager came to Hogan with 29 years’ experience dealing with driver safety at two private fleets.

“We wanted someone with maturity and experience whose background wasn’t in operations,” says Lewis. The concern was that a fatigue supervisor with a career in operations might instinctively be more sensitive to getting the load delivered than to ensuring the driver was sufficiently rested. And maturity and experience were critical because the job relies heavily on judgment and intuition.

Lager begins work at 7 p.m. Data showed that Hogan’s fatigue-related accidents typically occurred between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. Any driver planning to drive between those hours must call Lager first to let him know his status – how many hours he has available, when he last rested and so on. If drivers don’t get Lager personally, they can leave voice mail messages. But they can’t check in by e-mail or text messaging. Part of Lager’s assessment is hearing the tones in drivers’ voices.

Lager might get 220 to 250 calls or voice mail messages a night. He has learned from experience which drivers need attention and which don’t. Lager will dig a little deeper with some to get a fuller picture of both the amount and quality of rest. In some cases, he might ask a driver to check in again in a couple of hours. Others he might ask to take a break.

While chatting with a driver or listening to voice mail, Lager can check recent satellite-tracking data to confirm that the driver’s description of his status meshes with reality. For example, if a driver says he is coming off 10 hours rest but his truck has traveled 400 miles during that period, that’s a problem. This rarely happens, Lager says, because drivers know his capabilities for verifying their statements. Lager also has a system for verifying that all trucks moving between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. had checked in with him. But few drivers try to drive under the radar.

When Hogan rolled out the program not all drivers were enthusiastic about having someone watch over them. “We had to do some selling,” Lansing admits. Some drivers left, and others decided not to drive between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. But the negative reaction by some is one of the reasons the program is successful. Fewer drivers working overnight lowers Hogan’s risk of fatigue-related accidents. “It’s working without them knowing it,” Lager says. He still gets called “babysitter” now and then, but drivers generally have made their peace with the system or moved on.

The numbers point to success. Fatigue-related accidents dropped from 23 in 2000 to 18 in 2001, but only six of the 2001 accidents occurred after Lager joined Hogan. In 2002 and again in 2003, Hogan suffered only seven accidents attributable to fatigue.

Lager has made it clear that he will act to protect the safety of a driver, truck and load – period. Not long after Lager joined Hogan someone in operations questioned whether he should have shutdown a driver who was hauling an important parts run for a key customer. Lager stuck to his guns, saying, “I didn’t know those kind of loads made a driver less tired. We need to get more of those loads.”

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