Innovators: Turning it around

In 2004, Dupre Transport was recognized as the safest transportation and logistics company in Louisiana. From left: Brian Friesing, director of operations, site logistics; Reggie Dupre, CEO; Bruce Bartals, general manager, asset-based logistics; Doug Place, CFO; Al LaCombe, director of safety; Tom Voelkel, COO; and Jim Butler, director of operations, tank division.

In early 2000, Lafayette, La.-based Dupre` Transport reached a painful climax to what had already been a bad time for the company. In 61 days, Dupre` Transport had three severe accidents, leading to a moment of truth for Reggie Dupre`, chief executive officer, and other senior managers.

“We were hurting people, and one of our company values is that we treat our people like we want to be treated,” says Doug Place, chief financial officer of the 300-truck carrier. “We decided that we were either going to get safe or sell the business.”

Since that time, Dupre` Transport has reinvented itself from top to bottom with the goal of becoming the safest carrier in North America. In the past five years, management has implemented and continues to refine a number of new safety awareness, training and accountability programs and technology tools.

In early 2000, the company laid the bedrock of its safety turnaround by launching a behavior-based training and awareness program, “AIM for Safety.” The company uses this program to analyze and document each work step for safety hazards, from doing a pre-trip inspection to unloading a trailer. Each time management identifies a new task, it assigns a manager and a group of drivers to document the task using a job safety analysis (JSA). The JSA then is entered into a database and distributed for fleetwide training and awareness, says Al LaCombe, Dupre` Transport’s director of safety.

In fall 2000, management sought additional help from its insurance carrier, which referred the company to Circadian Technologies, a Lexington, Mass.-based fatigue management consulting firm. Circadian had several railroad clients, but Dupre` Transport was to become the first in the trucking industry, LaCombe says.

Circadian consultants began their work by gathering accident data and hours-of-service records from driver logs. They also conducted interviews with drivers and managers to evaluate work schedules, such as days off, length of shift and break times.

Dupre` Transport has 24/7 operations in both local and over-the-road fleets. In 2000, its local fleet used slip-seat operations to pick up and deliver gasoline in six different 12-hour shifts. Shift times began and ended at 2, 3 and 4 in the morning and afternoon. In the over-the road fleet, single drivers operate tankers and dry vans. Drivers in this division are on dispatch for 10 to 12 days maximum. In 2000, these drivers did not have shift schedules other than following hours-of-service rules.

After months of fact-gathering and testing, the consultants came to a manager’s meeting in March 2001 with their proposals. Following their recommendations was a major change from an operations standpoint, but management quickly put them into practice, LaCombe says.

Dupre` Transport’s local drivers switched to 12-hour morning and night shifts – from 5 to 5 morning and night – with an 11-hour dispatch. Drivers also must take a minimum two days off after working for a maximum of six days straight. The major change Dupre` Transport made in its over-the-road division was requiring drivers to take a minimum three-hour break between midnight and 6 a.m. – the time when fatigue is greatest, according to Circadian’s research.

To ensure its drivers adhere to this policy, the safety department uses an application that was developed internally for auditing the time and location data sent from its satellite tracking and mobile communications system. The application reports the shifts and start/stop times for each driver and the length of time a driver is on dispatch. Based on the data obtained, Dupre` Transport managers counsel drivers on fatigue.

Fatigue was not the only focus in 2001. Senior management began holding a monthly “stewardship” meeting to eliminate the “Big 4” accidents: lane changes, rollovers, rear ends and intersections. The Big 4 accidents account for 80 percent of the dollar amount of accident losses, Place says. In the meetings, managers tie the root cause of all accidents into the AIM program and discuss prevention strategies.

In 2002, the company began to tighten its hiring practices. One of the first new requirements was a “Ready for Duty” test to assure that drivers are physically and mentally able to perform the work required. On Monday, the first day of new driver orientation in Lafayette, drivers must take a 21/2-hour functional test at a nearby clinic. An occupational therapist monitors a driver as he goes through a simulation of hooking and unhooking hoses, cranking landing gear, squatting, climbing a ladder, etc. The driver’s pulse is monitored during the test.

“Some say ‘you’re trying to disqualify me,’ ” LaCombe says. “This is actually to make sure we are bringing on the right people who meet the job description.” The company later added personality testing to the process, using the characteristics of its top 25 drivers as a baseline.

In the spring of 2002, Dupre` Transport began using a forward-looking collision avoidance and blind-spot detection system throughout its fleet: This system is now factory-installed on all new vehicles it orders. The company also began using its mobile communications system to monitor hard-braking events. It recently developed an application to flash hard-braking events on the computer screens of terminal managers and safety managers. As a result of this awareness tool, the need for counseling of drivers on hard-braking events was reduced significantly.

In April, the company began using a sophisticated simulation-based driver training program to train drivers with real-life accident avoidance techniques and defensive driving methods, among other skills. The company joined three other Louisiana-based carriers in a consortium to obtain a state grant to fund the program (see “Innovators,” CCJ, May 2005).

Dupre` Transport also recently began working with FleetRisk Advisors, a firm that provides technology-based risk management services: Dupre` Transport was its launch customer. FleetRisk completed an analysis of seven years of data aimed at determining the relevant factors associated with accidents and to calculate the risk signature and risk profile for each driver. FleetRisk modeled driver data such as tenure, marital status, etc. against a database it compiled using sources of information from Dupre` Transport. Management plans to use these analytical tools to improve its training programs, LaCombe says.

Technology will continue to play a role in the fine-tuning of Dupre` Transport’s safety programs, but the movement’s key to success is the commitment from managers and front-line employees to safety, LaCombe says.

As a result of all of Dupre` Transport’s efforts, the company saw a 91 percent drop in personal injuries and a 43 percent drop in total accidents from 2000 to 2004. Accident cost per million miles dropped by 75 percent.

“We’re going to have hiccups,” LaCombe says. “But when I put my head on my pillow at night, I know we’re trying to improve, to be innovative and to make it better.”