Fleet safety professionals think about safety, about managing risk all day, every day. It is their job. The best of the best, however, also work tirelessly to make safety everybody's job, from the drivers, to the diesel technicians to the accountants in the back office. They believe that if you work for a fleet in any capacity, it is your personal responsibility to help make it safe and keep it that way.

Fleet Owner recently had the opportunity to visit with one such safety manager, Randy Cornell, vp-safety for Con-way Truckload Inc., about what it takes to create a culture of safety.

FO: If it is true that creating a culture of safety has to start at the top of the organization, how do you disseminate it throughout the business?

Cornell: A culture of safety is absolutely critical to a fleet and it does have to come from the top. Here at Con-way, we talk about that commitment to safety with every employee every day.

Every person who has access to email gets a message with information about safety every single day. Drivers get a voice message about safety from their fleet manager every day. It could be something like, “We had three minor accidents yesterday, two with stationary objects. Remember to get out and walk around the truck before you back it up to make sure you know what is around you.” It might be weather-related such as, “Donner Pass has a tire chain warning out today. It is a good time to check your chains to make sure they are ready to use, and review winter driving procedures.”

Sometimes we also share information from a news story or an article. Most of the safety messages come right from me. We have a link on our intranet where the safety messages are posted and that information is updated every day.

At our monthly all-employees safety meetings, you can get a feel for how this has permeated the organization. During the meetings, everyone introduces themselves by name and job title and the word “safety” is in every job title. People say, “My job is safety marketing; my job is safety accounting; my job is safety sales.” It has become the accepted practice, a regular habit.

FO: How do your drivers respond to this program?

Cornell: Our drivers respond very well. In fact, it is surprising how many drivers call me with ideas in response to the safety message. I get a lot of messages from drivers saying, “I had an idea about that safety message today…”

FO: Has talking about safety every day to everybody moved the needle when it comes to reducing accidents?

Cornell: I have been doing this for about three years now and it has moved the needle. Our total accidents, minor and reportable, have dropped about 30% over the past five years. We are on track this year to have the best safety year since 1987, when we began keeping records.

Our drivers have just done a wonderful job. It is really hats off to them because the ultimate responsibility for highway safety is theirs and they deserve the credit. That does not mean we can quit reminding them about safety, though. We are all human and we all forget. You just have to keep the safety message out there every day.

FO: Has the focus on fuel economy had any impact on fleet safety?

Cornell: Because of the high cost of fuel, companies are slowing their equipment down. That should reduce accidents in addition to improving miles per gallon.

It is tough to prove a negative point, however. It is hard to count the number of accidents you didn't have because of reducing governed speed.

That said, we do see a link between driving for fuel economy and safety. Drivers who have a sincere interest in fuel mileage also have a sincere interest in being safe. It is all part of taking care of business — all part of doing things right and being successful.

FO: Does having access to so much data about driver performance change the way you work with drivers these days?

Cornell: Accurate data about a driver's performance gives you more ability to accurately and fairly “score” a driver. It is a great tool for helping to pinpoint areas where a driver needs extra help or practice. Our goal at Con-way is to help our drivers be successful, not to find other drivers for their trucks. We have about 3,400 drivers now and our turnover is about 30 to 40% better than the industry average for long-haul truckload.

FO: Have intelligent onboard safety systems helped you to reduce accidents and create a culture of safety?

Cornell: Onboard safety systems just keep getting better and we believe they will make a difference over time. However, we don't want our drivers to rely on any technology for safety instead of relying on their own professional driving skills and good sense.

FO: Safety programs, like everything else, have a cost. How do you calculate the ROI on safety?

Cornell: There is no doubt that there are dollars to be saved by preventing accidents. I look at our costs every day. You have to be careful though not to put all your focus on costs. If you keep your focus on safety, we believe the bottom line will take care of itself.