Last August, as it wrapped up its fiscal year, Stock Building Supply decided to standardize some of its safety procedures as part of an ongoing effort to homogenize some of its chain-wide operating guidelines. That effort included customizing an interactive defensive-driving program called “Decision Driving,” developed by its insurer Liberty Mutual, a program Stock now puts all 2,000 of its drivers through annually. In addition, at each of Stock's 280-plus locations the company assigns one driver as an “evaluator” who rides with and alongside other drivers to score their performance.
Jennifer Cleaver, risk management supervisor for the Raleigh, N.C.–based pro dealer, says these measures have heightened the awareness of the importance of safety among Stock's drivers. While she declined to provide comparable driver-safety statistics that would substantiate this claim, Cleaver is like other pro dealers who are convinced that driver accidents and injuries are mostly preventable through continuous monitoring and training that extends to material handling.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates virtually every aspect of driver safety. But rules, no matter how specific, don't mean much if drivers aren't trained to make safety second nature. The correlation between driver safety and cost control isn't lost on dealers, either. “We have a very large deductible—$250,000 [for bodily injury and liability]—so it's in our interest to control and prevent accidents,” says Bob Garrone, corporate safety director for East Rutherford, N.J.–based Allied Building Products, whose 151 branches are supported by nearly 700 drivers and 1,400 vehicles.
York, Pa.–based The Wolf Organization has created what its director of safety and fleet, Brian Mullin, calls a “culture of safety” through its annual “Road to Safety” award. Drivers earn points toward the award by getting through a full year without a moving violation or chargeable accident, and by performing all required maintenance on their vehicles. In 2005, 70 of Wolf's 100 drivers received this recognition as well as merchandise for points earned. The company also drew one name at random from these drivers, with the winner receiving a $1,000 grand prize.
Implementing new programs isn't without its challenges. “It's a selling job,” says Jim Harper, director of safety for Sacramento, Calif.–based Meek's. That's why, when he's pitching new programs to Meek's senior management, Harper frames safety in terms of dollars and cents. “If we have accidents and injuries or destroy stuff, it makes the process of selling lumber less profitable.”
Last year Meek's hired Harper, who has 40 years of risk management and safety experience, to improve safety at all levels of its 18-yard operation. Meek's breaks down its couple hundred drivers into four groups: those who haul lumber and other wood products from mills to its yards, those who haul inventory from Meek's distribution center to its yards or jobsites; delivery drivers; and contractor salespeople who drive pickup trucks and sometimes deliver products to customers. Harper says the latter two groups were most in need of retraining, primarily because they often hauled too much weight for the vehicles they drove.
Since Harper joined the company, Meek's has become a training center for the National Safety Council's Professional Truck Driver defensive driving program, a six- to eight-hour course through which the dealer puts all of its drivers annually, as well as new hires. Among that course's recommendations, says Harper, are specific guidelines for how far a truck should stay behind vehicles in front of it, based on traffic and road conditions. That formula definitely prevented a collision for one of Meek's drivers who, says Harper, in early March was traveling on a wet road and determined he was too close to the car in front of him. As the driver backed off to a distance of around eight seconds, the car suddenly spun out of control. Harper says Meek's driver managed to avoid hitting the car by just 4 feet.
Fleet safety resources also are available from the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, including Delivery and Fleet Safety, a soon-to-be-released video that details fleet safety from load building to on-the-road to jobsite delivery (see page 24).
Pay for Safe Play The effectiveness of any safety regimen, say dealers, depends on how avidly an owner or president commits to its execution. Harper calls Bill Meek, Meek's co-owner, “my biggest supporter.” And Eric Schmitzer, director of human resources for North Ft. Myers, Fla.–based Raymond Building Supply, says his department “pretty much has the green light for whatever we want to do” to improve safety. This five-yard dealer is like many of its competitors that are enforcing stricter rules on their drivers, like no cell-phone use while driving and wearing hard hats at all times on a jobsite. Raymond's 80-plus drivers also are required to attend quarterly safety meetings that the dealer's insurance carrier conducts. Drivers who miss those meetings forfeit their monthly bonuses; Raymond hands out monthly and quarterly bonuses (Schmitzer wouldn't say how much) to its drivers that receive no tickets, avoid accidents, and have no lost-time injuries.