Getting maintenance and drivers on the same page

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Updated Jul 6, 2017
Transpro Freight Systems driver Krzysztof Grabowski studies brake testing through CarriersEdge online driver training program. With a comprehensive library of safety and compliance courses, CarriersEdge help fleets train their drivers without sacrificing productivity by providing an on-demand program that drivers can access anywhere, anytime.Transpro Freight Systems driver Krzysztof Grabowski studies brake testing through CarriersEdge online driver training program. With a comprehensive library of safety and compliance courses, CarriersEdge help fleets train their drivers without sacrificing productivity by providing an on-demand program that drivers can access anywhere, anytime.

Transervice Vice President of Maintenance Taki Darakos says his maintenance personnel regularly participates in driver safety meetings, detailing any truck spec changes and setting up equipment to guide drivers through pre- and post-trip inspections.

“Sometimes you change something on the spec side and people don’t understand the technology in terms of how it works and what the benefit is,” he says. “Then you are not really getting the full benefit. For example, we probably have folks that don’t understand the visual indicator and what it is telling them.”

Often, Darakos says he will set a fault in the truck and walk the driver through the process of finding it, which gives him a good idea of who is and who is not performing high-quality checks.

“If there are folks that it’s not part of their routine, maybe they’re just looking around ad hoc, you can usually pick it up pretty quick,” he says.

Driver training, adds Ryder Regional Safety Director Tom Fallon, is one of the biggest keys to dropping CSA violations and advises fleets to get copies of the out-of-service violation criteria and use the CDL training manual as a minimum standard for inspections.

“[For example], a lot of drivers don’t know the required minimum tread depths,” he says. “They still want to pull the coin out of their pocket. That’s not the way. They should be measuring it because that’s what the DOT does.”

For trucks not equipped with brake stroke indicators, Michael Frolick, director of safety and compliance for Transpro Freight Systems, says his company’s brake inspections consist of measuring from the back of the brake chamber to the middle of the center of the clevis pin, applying the brake and re-measuring.

“It’s the actual version right of CVSA,” he adds.

When conducting a road test with a driver, Frolick says he includes the “mark and measure” method to determine if the brakes are in proper working order and not out of adjustment. “Regardless if [the drivers] pass or fail, it also allows me to not only get an idea what kind of training they have had previously, but also to ensure the vehicle is safe since I will be a passenger,” he says.

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Part of training, Darakos says, is also making sure drivers and technicians understand how otherwise little things can add up to cause major brake problems.

“It’s also important for drivers and technicians to take care and hang gladhands up, not just toss them on the back of the catwalk,” he says. “This leads to problems [and] it can also lead to contamination. A good habit is to have some extra gladhand seals that you can pop in. They’re not that much from a cost standpoint but they can cause a significant delay.”

When a truck fails a brake inspection at the scale, drivers take the brunt of the blame but Frolick says fleets bare a responsibility to support the truck and driver to ensure each operates safely.

“I believe drivers want to do a good job and are proud of their profession,” he says. “I do have sound knowledge after interviewing someone that they have either had some training or very little. I do believe, sadly, that there are still some carriers out there that are more concerned about the dollar than the driver’s or public safety.”

Transpro uses an on-line training program from Carriers Edge that features interactive modules, which also includes pre-trip inspection training and education coupled with the carrier’s own safety program.

“Our road test is two-and-a-half hours long with a review afterwards and a consistent mentor program to help new drivers over a four-week average program to share their knowledge and nurture a new driver coming out of school,” Frolick says, “and our drivers also go through two mandatory safety meetings a year.”

A driver’s education and training is tested in unannounced safety blitz inspections in the Transpro yard.

Coordination with dispatch is also important to prevent equipment in need of service from being sent with another load only because of its proximity to the customer.

“It’s one thing for the computer to tell us maintenance is due, but it’s another thing for us to actually be able to get it into the shop,” Frolick says. “Dispatch doesn’t operate the same way maintenance does. They may dispatch trucks and trailers closest to a load when the shop may be looking at them for maintenance.”

When a brake issue is flagged by the driver, it’s critical that the problem is addressed by the maintenance staff.

Darakos adds open communication between the drivers and the shop is key.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship. Maintenance and operations depend on each other,” he says. “If we’re not doing good maintenance on our end … we’re going to get into a vicious cycle where the driver says, ‘Every time I bring something up to the shop, no one listens to me.’ And then maintenance says, ‘Every time this guy comes in, he’s got a problem. He just needs to drive.’”

It’s also up to operations to note repeat violations and determine at what point the issue could have been avoided altogether.

Brake woes at Transpro, for example, led the company to make a friction change.

“We had the mechanics to do an analysis of why the shoes were being removed,” Frolick says. “We were using reman brakes at the time and the techs noted they were cracking prematurely and causing drum wear.”

Frolick says the company transitioned away from reman brakes and saw an immediate improvement.

Darakos says Transervice transitioned from drum brakes to disc brakes in 2012, with many of the trucks going through their service-life – 750,000 miles – never needing a brake job.

“Techs love the idea of not having to do as much maintenance,” he says. “The negative is that it can lull you to sleep. If disc brakes are worn down and no one catches it, it can become a pretty expensive repair by wearing down to the point that the rotor is damaged.”

Disc brakes are about a $1,200 per axle premium over drums but offer reduced maintenance costs if they are adequately maintained.

“They’re not indestructible,” he adds. “They wear down like everything else. If you let things wear down and you get rotor damage, that can be a $2,000 to $3,000 [repair] bill and you lost all the things you tried to do.”

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected]