With the advent of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s flagship Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, a new premium was put on safety. This required a number of fleets to focus on the issue like never before.
But according to Con-way Freight Vice President of Safety Robert “Bob” Petrancosta, the company has long held safety as a primary concern.
Petrancosta has been able to experience the company's dedication to safety first-hand, not only from behind his desk as the vice president of safety, but also behind the wheel.
He began his career in the trucking industry more than four decades ago as a driver. He came to work for Con-way Freight 25 years ago, and after driving for a few years, he went back to school to earn his degree in safety management. After that, “it was a stair step approach to where I am now,” Petrancosta says.
Although he no longer earns his living as a driver, Petrancosta keeps his commercial driver's license.
“I try to get as much time behind the wheel as I can. It's a tough environment, and it really works better if you can show others that you can walk the talk,” he says.
Petrancosta has not only demonstrated his dedication to safety at his own company, but also is involved in the national discussion as a member of the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, a group of experts in the industry that advise the FMCSA on a number of regulatory matters. He also serves on a number of American Trucking Associations committees.
To recognize his efforts, ATA named Petrancosta Safety Director of the Year in 2012.
But he emphasizes that safety is not just a top-down effort. He believes that to successfully make safety one of the top priorities in any company, you have to have your ears open to ideas from everyone in the organization.
“There is no substitute for good communications with our employees,” Petrancosta says.
He makes it quite clear that good communication is only effective when it goes both ways. Con-way works to get its messages about safety to its employees in a variety of ways, including a daily verbal morning report to approximately 300 truck terminals.
“We know that we have a voice every day that speaks to safety. We share best practices and learning lessons. The pipeline is wide open. If something good happens in Portland, Maine, they can hear about it in Portland, Ore.,” he explains.
Other methods of communication include television announcements, videos, simulations and training.
But the second step to communication is listening, he stresses.
“You have to listen to your employees. It is incumbent on an organization trying to foster a safety culture that it can take those 14,000 drivers on the street and believe that they offer 14,000 opportunities to learn things every day.”
Petrancosta says Con-way Freight makes a concerted effort to incorporate the feedback from employees into its business decisions.
From the classroom to technology
Another way Con-way works at fostering a culture of safety is in its in-house driving school, which offers free tuition and pays students while they learn. According to Petrancosta, safety is emphasized in both the classroom curriculum and the behind-the-wheel training.
Con-way Freight also has implemented a wellness program. A well-ness professional has been added at many of the larger service centers in Con-way Freight s network so they are readily available to employees.
In addition, Con-way has invested in technologies to increase safety, such as collision warning systems, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning systems, roll stabilizers and electronic onboard recorders. The company also is piloting in-truck camera systems that can look both forward and into the cab during an event. The cameras are activated only by a driving event such as hard braking, unusual acceleration or a collision.
“These cameras give us the ability to help coach our drivers after near misses or events that don't result in an accident. Up until today, we could only really address driving behaviors after a crash had occurred,” Petrancosta says.
Drivers are often leery of technologies they see as “Big Brother,” but Petrancosta says once drivers realize that they cameras only record during an event, they feel more positive about the technology's opportunity to improve safety, and bring more clarity to incident analysis.
With all this, Petrancosta is hardly resting on his laurels. He says Con-way Freight will continue searching for new ways to improve its safety culture.