Working as a safety investigator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for about 20 years certainly gives an inside look at the good, the bad, and the ugly of how safe trucking fleets are.
By the time she left the agency in 2008, Carol Heinowski had seen the ins and outs of countless safety programs and was a first-hand witness to the trend of trucking fleets across the country embracing safety as a company-wide effort rather than something strictly for the safety department.
One of the first things she did after she was hired by private carrier Meijer was conduct a mock DOT audit. She was pleased to find there wasn’t much to fix but saw opportunity to build on the carrier’s foundation of driver training.
Initially, she was brought on to head both dispatch operations and safety of the Michigan-based fleet. At the time, it was about the half the size it is today, now with around 250 tractors and 400 drivers hauling freight for the retail grocery store chain. Within about five years, the private fleet grew and someone else took over the dispatching operations role, allowing her to refocus her energy on hiring and orientation. Now she is the logistics manager, safety and compliance, of Meijer Logistics, and has been recognized with HDT’s 2022 Safety & Compliance Award.
A Focus on Safety Training
All new Meijer drivers are put through a three-day classroom orientation program where they are paired with a trainer for anywhere from two to six weeks depending on experience level.
In addition to orientation, all drivers receive monthly online training, covering topics such as driving near school buses, distracted driving, and how to safely pull a trailer from a dock.
Drivers involved in an accident, roadside violation, or other safety incident, are also assigned individual training.
Hiring Right Out of Driver School
With a trusted training program in place, Heinowski doesn’t shy away from hiring drivers with little experience. Meijer hires drivers from approved driving schools who pass Meijer’s road test and pairs them with an experienced driver for one or two months.
“A couple of our driver trainers specialize with those new drivers. They have the patience and skill levels to further the training those new people need,” Heinowski says. “They don’t go solo until their trainer feels they’re ready. A new driver with experience may only be with trainer for a week or two, but one coming out of school can be four, six, eight…whatever it takes.”
From Warehouse to Driver
This year, Meijer began a program to encourage its warehouse team members who are interested in becoming drivers to start training. Dubbed Drive for Success, the four-week program allows approved warehouse workers to work with a dedicated supervisor in a yard.
All applicants of the program must meet Meijer’s minimum criteria of no tickets in the last 12 months, and no more than two in the last three years, and no DUI’s in the last five years.
Congratulations to our 2022 HDT Safety & Compliance Award Winner Carol Heinowski, logistics manager/safety and compliance, for @meijer 🎉 #FleetForwardCon Sponsored by @JJKeller #trucking #safety pic.twitter.com/PfRKDhs1OG— Heavy Duty Trucking (@HDTrucking) November 11, 2022
During that program, the supervisor focuses on training the driver important maneuvers, such as backing.
“We’re not doing the full training; we decided we didn’t want to become a truck driving school. So, we do those four weeks and if they’re showing promise then we’ll send them off to one of the area schools, and Meijer pays for that training,” Heinowski says. “Then they come back, and we put them through the full orientation program, and typically they don’t need as much time.”
So far, all graduates of the program have received top honors at the truck driving school due to the head start provided to them.
A Culture of Safety
At Meijer, safety is ingrained in the culture.
The carrier has always been an early adopter of safety technologies, including ELDs and dash cameras.
Meijer has been using electronic logging devices since they first came to market, long before they were mandated. The data from the ELDs is incorporated into the fleet’s home-grown dispatch software program.
All of its tractors are equipped with dash cameras, and all new vehicles are equipped with forward collision avoidance technology, as well as lane change radar.
Celebrate Safety Achievements
The teams hold various celebrations and incentives when reaching safety milestones, including cookouts and a family ride-along program. “As long as our safety scores remain good (accidents, CSA scores, and clinic visit ratio) we allow two weeks a year for team members to bring in their family members to ride along with them,” she explains. “That has been a huge incentive. We’ve had to cancel it due to our numbers not being in the acceptable range, and the drivers really rallied to make sure they could bring that program back.”
Meijer also celebrates individual team members through a companywide online recognition program. Team members have the ability to earn points through that can be used to purchase products and gift cards.
Safety by the Numbers
To track the carrier’s safety, Heinowski keeps and monitor data regarding both accidents (DOT and minor) and injuries/lost time.
“One item we are proud of is the reduction of our clinic visit injury rate,” she says. “Historically our rate is usually 6.00 to 6.80, one year even reaching a high of 8.44. But our rate in 2021 was a record low of 4.19. And this year we remain below our goal.”
She says Meijer also prides itself on low DOT CSA scores, which are monitored monthly.
“Our DOT recordable accident rate in 2021 was 0.49,” she says. “Our rate in 2020 was 0.30. However, 2020 was an odd year, both for us and even for accident statistics statewide due to the pandemic and thus less vehicles traveling on the roads due to the massive shutdowns. Therefore, we like to compare against pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, our DOT recordable rate was 0.56. So, we saw a reduction in 2021.”
With reporting from Deborah Lockridge. This article appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Heavy Duty Trucking.