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It’s all about repetition: how drivers and fleets prepare for severe weather

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There’s not some secret sauce when it comes to driver safety. Whether you’re an owner-operator or driving for a fleet, you’re well acquainted with the fundamentals. Safety training can be compared to sports training: you practice and practice for the day when your skills will suddenly be put to the test. For a game, you may know you’ll be tested, just not how. It’s also the same with any kind of drill. You run the drills for the moment when—under duress—you’re going to have to keep calm and make critical decisions.

That’s at least in part why for a large fleet owner like PetroChoice with their 350 trucks at 52 locations delivering to 31 states, safety is a number one priority. “You can’t underestimate safety and its importance to operations,” says Marilena Acevedo, VP of Human Resources of PetroChoice, a national lubricant distributor with a proprietary fleet of drivers and trucks. Acevedo has been in the oil and energy field for more than 11 years, leading operations for drivers and on-site employees.  

“During Florence and Michael we were almost completely shutdown,” she tells FreightWaves. Acevedo says a lot of their drivers are self-motivated and experienced, but they always have new drivers.

Whether new or experienced, though, how do you tell people what they probably already know? 

“We depend on repetition. Sometimes it’s just reminders. We want to keep safety fresh and top of mind. They may not always do the right thing when they’re on their own, but we depend on people conducting themselves in a professional way. It’s about awareness as well.” 

In other words, if they hear it enough the message might actually begin to sound important. “I’ve heard you have to hear something seven times to really remember it,” says Acevedo. “I don’t know if that’s exactly true, but the point is it’s important, and we repeat the safety message all the time. Also, when drivers come from other companies they may have other processes, and we’re teaching them our process.”

You hear a lot about pre-planning and good communication as well. “Regular safety meetings that the branch managers have with the teams. The difference between a warning and a watch,” she says. “Making sure your windshield fluid is right. Safety checks in good and bad weather. We start every one of our meetings with a safety moment. Just caution and speed limits and knowing your surroundings. What to do when you’re stuck. We tell them not to stop under a bridge or a tunnel. Those are dangerous during bad weather. Stay in the rig and get below the window is what we generally tell them. They may or may not ever experience the exact thing, but we want them to be ready.”

We want to keep safety fresh and top of mind.

“All of our drivers are usually home every night, but they may have a drive of two or three hours that takes them into, say, poor visibility and they have to wait for conditions to get better. What about high winds? We worry about those because the liquid form of anything can add to tipping,” says Acevedo.

Other safety procedures the company follows are actually in accordance with the law. They don’t allow cell phones of any kind, for instance. Not even blue tooth.

“I know that’s very rigid, but safety is just that important. At this point it’s the honor system, but all of our phones are company phones. If they’re caught it’s a policy violation. The laws are pretty strict. We give them the opportunity to be mature and professional.”

Drivers can certainly check calls and make them when they’re done driving. It’s just when they’re actually pulling all that freight.

“We always have them bring flashlights, additional clothing and food and blankets, and make sure everything’s charged. Everything you do in your normal traveling life. We take precautionary steps if we anticipate certain weather. We tell the customers and push forward the delivery. There’s always lots of preparatory work. It’s how we handle our fleet and our customers. We have an employee hotline and everyone’s watching the weather and it offers updates on additional information about closings. Good communication is what it’s all about. When things are happening quick with weather situations we may update the hotline several times in a single day.”

With all those trucks pulling all that freight day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, you might wonder how they’ve never had a driver stranded more than a couple of hours on the side of the road. Like all things safety, it begins and ends with the fundamentals: repetition, good planning, and communication.

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Chad Prevost

Chad is radio host and broadcast media specialist for FreightWaves.