Innovator of the Year: Tireless pursuit of safety

Hogan Transports’ hands-on approach to fatigue and other safety challenges earns the
St. Louis-based truckload carrier recognition as CCJ’s first Innovator of the Year.

In the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 23, Jim Lager ordered two drivers to park their trucks and rest. Carriers shut down drivers all the time when they bump against hours-of-service restrictions. These two drivers, however, were perfectly legal under the hours rules. In fact, most of the drivers Lager has grounded in the past four years were operating well within the federal safety regulations.

Lager is fatigue supervisor for St. Louis-based Hogan Transports, which operates about 1,000 trucks throughout its truckload and dedicated businesses. Each night, Lager monitors 200 or more drivers – 239 were driving on the night of Feb. 22-23 – who drive between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. Based on information drivers provide to him nightly in phone calls and voice mails, his own verification of their status through satellite tracking and even reviews of messages between the driver and dispatch, Lager identifies drivers who might need special attention.

The position of fatigue supervisor was the product of Hogan’s executive-level attention to safety and loss control, including a lengthy management safety committee meeting held every month. CCJ recognized Hogan Transports as an innovator in June 2004 for its simple yet unusual approach to fatigue management and for the management safety committee that produced the idea. We spotlight Hogan once again as the most innovative among the carriers profiled in 2004.

Companywide commitment
If your picture of an innovator is an upstart or new kid on the block, Hogan Transports isn’t it. The carrier has operated in St. Louis since President David Hogan’s grandfather launched it in 1918. For decades, the company focused strictly on local drayage. By the 1970s, it had broadened its scope to regional operations. And by the late 1980s, Hogan Transports was operating nationwide truckload service. The company now is in its third generation. David Hogan has worked in the business for 26 years and has been president for 21.

The idea for the management safety committee came about five years ago, Hogan says. “Like most carriers, we had the safety department driving safety.” While that may seem obvious, the problem with this approach, Hogan says, is that safety can become compartmentalized and underappreciated by other departments that must be involved in promoting it. “We needed a way to help drive the process throughout the company.” Today, Tom Lansing, vice president of safety and driver services, calls the management safety committee “the key to the whole safety program.”

On the last Thursday of each month, a group of about a dozen people meet for several hours to analyze Hogan Transports’ safety performance. The committee includes Hogan, Lansing, the chief financial officer, vice presidents and leaders of various operating departments, senior safety officials and representatives of Lockton, the carrier’s risk management consultants. The point is to draw safety and operations together so that each understands the needs of the other. “You have to have good dialogue among the departments,” Hogan says.

A typical management safety committee meeting starts with a review of any major losses during the month, Lansing says. That means dissecting accidents, workers’ compensation claims or cargo losses to determine whether a change in policy or procedures could reduce the likelihood of a similar loss in the future.

Then discussion turns to analysis of safety-related data, such as reports from roadside inspections and both internal and third-party safety observations. For example, a select group of Hogan drivers observes the actions of other drivers, yielding monthly reports on the most commonly observed unsafe behavior. The goal in this second portion of the committee meeting is to identify and correct safety problems before they lead to accidents. Meetings generally run three to four hours, and the approach is methodical with unresolved items flagged for follow-up in future meetings.

One of the strengths of the management safety committee is that it dives into the details rather than merely delegating them. While this approach is time-consuming, it ensures everyone has input into the issues and possible solutions. For example, toward the end of a four-hour meeting on Feb. 24, the committee addressed the security of equipment operated by drivers who are domiciled remotely. What ensued was a thorough discussion of the costs and benefits of kingpin locks versus gladhand locks.

Committee members concluded that gladhand locks were a cost-effective solution. But more controversial was the question of whether the company should reimburse drivers for using them. Doing so might send the message that it’s OK for drivers to drop loaded trailers for their personal convenience. Ultimately, the committee decided to look at the issue more closely and revisit it in future meetings.

Tackling fatigue
Over the past five years, the management safety committee has spawned a number of programs to improve safety and loss control. To help identify bad habits among drivers and coach them to improve, the committee adopted the Hogan Observation Safety Team. A winter weather shutdown policy notifies drivers when the company considers it unsafe to continue operating in a given area. And the fatigue supervisor pulls drivers off the road when he believes they are too tired to operate safely.

About four years ago, the management safety committee discovered that many of its accidents occurred between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., and they often involved new drivers. Hogan Transports attributed 23 of its accidents in 2000 to fatigue, and the pace continued into 2001. The policy always had been to allow drivers to determine their own needs for rest as long as they remained within the regulations.

The management safety committee realized that this policy wasn’t working. But Hogan Transports also recognized that driver fatigue is not easy to manage with a single policy.
“David Hogan was the one who said that in order to improve the safety of our drivers and the public it was best to take the decision out of the driver’s hands,” Lansing says. Given drivers’ desire for independence, it wasn’t an easy decision. But a fatigued driver cannot judge his own levels of fatigue, Lansing says.

Lager – a veteran safety professional who came to Hogan with 29 years’ experience at two private fleets – joined Hogan as fatigue supervisor in May 2001. The company was so pleased with the initial success of the program for new hires that it soon expanded it to any driver operating between 11 a.m. and 5 a.m.

Lager begins his work day at 7 p.m. For several hours, he listens to drivers who check in by voice mail or in person. Lager wants to hear their voices, so drivers can’t check in by e-mail or text message. He wants to know what they have been doing, when they last drove and when they plan to drive that night. Lager verifies each voice mail or conversation by checking vehicle location history. It’s a time-consuming process, but discrepancies between what drivers tell Lager and what satellite tracking tells him often clue him in to a problem.

Another tool at Lager’s disposal is a GPS-based report of all trucks operating after 11 p.m. He matches tractor numbers on that list with his own list of tractor numbers for drivers who have checked in. Any tractor that moves without the driver checking in is a major red flag. Occasionally, a driver forgets, but often he is trying to avoid scrutiny. All he does is draw it.

Lager cites several factors behind the program’s success. First, he operates independent of dispatch. When he shuts down a driver for fatigue, he doesn’t take into account the nature of the load. Dispatch often can cover the load with another driver, but there are cases when Lager’s decision may lead to a service failure.

One of Lager’s favorite examples of this outcome occurred shortly after he joined Hogan. Someone in operations questioned his decision to shut down a driver with a very time-sensitive load. Lager quipped, “I didn’t know those kind of loads made a driver less tired. We need to get more of those loads.”

These disputes don’t happen anymore. Lager believes that one reason is his relative seniority, compared to other nighttime personnel. “When I was new, I was challenging the status quo. Now, I’m the status quo.”

Another reason for the program’s success, Lager believes, is that he doesn’t hand down discipline. Lager’s job is to ensure a tired driver isn’t behind the wheel. When he intervenes to shut a driver down, the driver isn’t accountable for a service failure. Lager tries to develop trust, often asking the driver how much rest he thinks he needs. Then Lager often tacks on another hour or two.

One of the biggest reasons the program works is that it exists, Lager concedes. Drivers have learned to police themselves because they know Lager is watching. The process has forced drivers to think ahead, and that alone is one of the biggest deterrents to fatigue, he argues.

Since Hogan hired Lager in 2001, accidents attributed to fatigue have dropped to six or seven each year.

Continual improvements
With the management safety committee as its guide, Hogan Transports continually strives to improve and tweak its programs. In fact, one of the items on the agenda for the Feb. 24 meeting was a reevaluation of the company’s programs to see if they are still worthwhile, Hogan says.

Hogan also believes in leveraging technology to improve safety. For example, the carrier’s new trucks are equipped with automatic fifth wheel releases to cut down on injuries incurred when uncoupling tractors and trailers. And as part of Hogan’s fleet replacement, all of its system fleet tractors by the end of 2005 will have automated transmissions, requiring a clutch only for launching the vehicle. Hogan is convinced that drivers will be safer if they can focus more attention on the road and less on the mechanics of clutching and shifting.

“We try to achieve an environment where safety is the No. 1 priority,” Hogan says. “It sounds corny, but I feel it’s our responsibility. If we don’t have safe drivers, the stuff about taking care of our customers and so on – that flies out the window.”

The good HOST
Select Hogan drivers help coach others

Mike Crook is one of the elite at Hogan Transports – and not just because of his 23-year tenure with the company. Crook is one of 38 drivers in Hogan’s work force of more than 1,000 who have been selected as members of the Hogan Observation Safety Team. The idea for HOST drivers was suggested to the management safety committee by risk consultants Lockton as an expansion of a program already used in Hogan’s shop, says Tom Lansing, Hogan’s vice president of safety and driver services.

HOST members observe their peers in areas such as following distance, signaling, speed and climbing into and out of trucks. HOST drivers coach others on proper technique and complete forms that are used to track critical safety behaviors – not for discipline or enforcement. The HOST form covers 11 safety behaviors, although the HOST driver covers only those he observes.

Drivers can be leery of others watching them. Crook tries to put them at ease by emphasizing that most of all, the driver being observed has most to gain because his personal safety is at stake. “I tell them, ‘Don’t do it for me. Do it for yourself.’ ” Whenever possible, he points out the importance of a safety behavior by referring to real-world situations where failure to operate safely led to problems.

Crook operates in the St. Louis area, so most of his observations are in the yard or local roads. The most common problem Crook sees is failure to follow Hogan’s backing policy – four-way flashers and a brief tap on the horn. After that, the most frequent problem is failure to maintain three points of contact with the truck during entry and exit. Other frequently observed behaviors include speeding and following too close.

“We have created a group of veterans with excellent safety records, and that has been very well received by drivers,” says President David Hogan. “Sometimes it’s more effective to hear from a peer than from a safety manager.”

All’s well with Wooster
In their deliberations over selection of the Innovator of the Year, CCJ’s editors quickly narrowed the field to two companies – Hogan Transports and Wooster, Ohio-based Wooster Motor Ways. The debate was spirited, and the decision was close.

In May 2004, CCJ recognized Wooster for its wellness program, which included free physicals for drivers and spouses, educational sessions and newsletters on health and nutrition, healthier snacks in the driver lounge and a fitness facility for employees. Since last spring, the popularity of the fitness facility – built within a refurbished tractor trailer – led Wooster to add more fitness equipment, says President Paul Williams.

Williams believes that attention to wellness and healthier lifestyles helped lower Wooster’s health care costs, which dropped by about $250,000 in 2004, resulting in lower employee co-pays for the current year. “I’m probably the only employer I know who was able to lower employees’ health care costs as well as their weekly contributions to the plan,” Wooster says.

About the award
CCJ launched the Innovator of the Year award in 2004 to recognize carriers for trying new things and succeeding. By soliciting nominations and investigating leads, CCJ’s editors recognize innovators throughout the year and select one for special recognition as Innovator of the Year. Innovators considered for the current award were those recognized in the magazine in 2004.

Innovation in any aspect of the operation is eligible for recognition. To qualify, the carrier or private fleet must operate at least 10 power units in Classes 3-8 and maintain a satisfactory safety rating, if rated. Selection of innovators for recognition is at the sole discretion of CCJ’s editors.

CCJ’s Innovator of the Year program is sponsored by PeopleNet. For more information on the program and previously recognized innovators or to download a nomination form, visit this site.