Innovators: Improving the future

Linde North America pinpoints early indicators of risky driver behaviors that it can modify through coaching and counseling.

Two years ago, a 64-year-old driver for Linde North America received a safety award for 3 million accident-free miles. Soon afterward, a manager noticed a sudden change in the driver’s behavior.

The driver had two rapid deceleration events in the same month, signifying a problem with vehicle spacing. The concerned manager had an idea: ask the driver when he had his most recent eye exam. After a doctor’s visit, the driver’s depth perception was corrected easily with a new prescription.

“He is still working for us,” says Joe Gomes, director of safety for Linde North America, a division of the Linde Group, a global producer and supplier of industrial gases whose U.S. corporate offices are in Murray Hill, N.J. Gomes spends most of his time managing risk for Linde North America Bulk Distribution, the largest division of its private fleet. The division operates 750 power units and 2,000 bulk and high-pressure gas trailers.

Identifying and correcting the root causes for changes in driver behavior and performance is not always as easy as getting a new pair of glasses, however. More recently, a manager noticed a driver had an unusual amount of speeding and rapid speed changes. The driver’s abnormal behavior persisted for about three to four weeks until he acknowledged he was having marital problems; he was rushing home each day to take care of kids after his wife left, Gomes says. The driver’s behavior returned to normal after receiving counseling through Linde’s employee assistance program (EAP), and he also continues to work for the company.

Motor carriers and private fleets often manage drivers’ safety by disciplining or terminating drivers after incidents and accidents, Gomes says. “We try to use leading indicators to catch the behavior and modify it before it becomes an incident.”

In 2005, Linde created a Driver Risk Index to monitor the leading indicators of driver safety and performance. The DRI is a database tool that enables managers to score driver risk efficiently on a 1-to-100 scale and monitor any changes in driver performance. Data for the DRI is downloaded daily from each vehicle through the company’s onboard computing system.
The DRI is based on six leading indicators for driver behavior: speed, rapid speed changes (9 mph or more per second), miles per gallon, excessive RPMs, idle time and brake applications. Linde evaluates each indicator on a six-month basis to pinpoint any trends or changes, Gomes says.

“(The driver) is not going to come running up to you,” says Mike McDonald, Linde’s national distribution maintenance and engineering manager. “You’ll start to see more brake applications and hitting the throttle harder.”

At least once a week, managers review performance with drivers who score in the lower range. Rapid speed changes, considered an aggressive or violent behavior, merit an immediate conversation with the driver. Even drivers that routinely score in the top range of the DRI need coaching if managers notice a sudden shift in their score.

“A lot of times, the stress that hits guys is not something that comes from within the job function, but from their family,” Gomes says. “The DRI identifies it. You can see really quickly that something is going on and pull (the driver) in and talk to him.”

Changing behavior
All of Linde’s driver managers must complete an internal course called “Transport Leadership” that focuses on interpersonal and coaching skills. Driver managers are trained specifically to coach drivers using only performance data that can be documented.

Linde also trains all drivers to follow the Smith System driving techniques, which involve ensuring a cushion between the truck and surrounding vehicles. Drivers that follow these techniques not only are safer, but also are more fuel-efficient, Gomes says. Linde monitors hard accelerations and hard brakes to see which drivers aren’t complying with the training.

The DRI gives managers a quick way to determine if drivers’ habits and skills are up to standard or what specific behavior needs to be modified. Sometimes, a change in behavior is due to something more complicated. Linde’s managers are trained to be sensitive to drivers’ personal problems.

“Personal problems are not something you want to delve into,” Gomes says. Having a personal conversation about a change in performance often leads to flareups, he says. When discussing performance, drivers sometimes will disclose aspects of their personal lives voluntarily. Losing one of Linde’s tenured drivers due to a lapse in safety or performance for any reason is a major concern, no matter what the cause.

“A lot of times, (drivers) don’t want to come out, but our managers are pretty good,” McDonald says. “They’ve worked with these guys for 10 to 15 years. They know who their families are. They will open up about what the issue is.” For any personal issues drivers may have, managers suggest they use the company’s EAP called Lifeworks. If the driver is in the office with the manager, the manager will call Lifeworks, hand the phone to the driver and walk out, McDonald says.

Any conversation the driver has with Lifeworks is confidential. The company is billed based on the amount of usage, but no other driver information is passed from the EAP to Linde, Gomes says. “If you’ve got a guy with 10 to 15 years invested in the company, we know it is going to be very difficult to find a replacement,” he says. “We go the extra mile.”

Critical delivery
Maintaining high performance from all drivers is critical for Linde, because customer service literally is a life-or-death scenario. Hospitals that contract with Linde must know that their tanks never will run dry of important medical supplies such as oxygen and cryogenic gases. Linde has developed advanced dispatch and scheduling systems, which include telemetry systems to monitor tank levels remotely and determine precisely when deliveries need to arrive, McDonald says.

“We are on time, every time,” he says. Linde’s measurement for on-time service is a ratio of “interruptions per thousand” deliveries, which includes both real and perceived interruptions – from the customer’s point of view. The company keeps this ratio at virtually zero, McDonald says.

Linde’s process for modifying driver behavior to improve fuel efficiency nearly is identical to its process for safety. The company uses the same DRI system to monitor drivers’ fuel efficiency, but rather than track miles per gallon, Linde has established standards for relevant indicators. “If (drivers) meet certain standards, we know their mpg,” Gomes says. “If they are driving efficiently, they are using the Smith System.” The company is currently in the process of deploying its national fleet trainers to each location to teach drivers to use proper shifting techniques for the newer 2007 engines in the fleet.

In addition to making trucks and drivers more fuel-efficient, Linde also is maximizing the use of safety technology in its vehicles. The company uses roll stability systems on its tractors and trailers. In the cab, drivers use a lane departure warning system and four different cameras on the tractor and trailer.

For Linde to excel at customer service and remain competitive, its managers are leaving nothing to chance.

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If you know a carrier that has displayed innovation, contact Avery Vise at or (800) 633-5953.