How freight company Saia trains and monitors its drivers


Credit: Saia

As seen in a variety of rail and truck incidents, chemical manufacturing sites are not the only places where hazardous chemicals can be a concern. Those chemicals often must transported safely to another facility. For trucking operations, safe transportation “starts with hiring the right drivers, training them correctly, and then monitoring them for performance,” says Karla Staver of Saia LTL Freight.

Saia won an American Chemistry Council Responsible Care Partner Award last year. As a company, Saia tries to keep in mind that its employee’s families share the roads with the shipments the company hauls, says Staver, who is Saia’s director of safety and claims prevention.

When hiring, Saia couples road tests with extensive background checks that look at an applicant’s driving record and which companies they’ve already driven for. “Our top candidates have at least a year’s worth of experience,” she says.

Once hired, drivers get instruction on topics such as forklift use, hazardous materials, and hazard communication standards. They then spend a week working with a driver trainer. Staver characterizes driver trainers as “top drivers within the company who have expressed an interest in helping train.” The trainers focus on defensive driving techniques, such as being aware of traffic behavior and leaving appropriate space cushions. “We have had drivers that we brought on who don’t make it through that week because they didn’t meet our expectations of safety performance,” Staver says.

Saia then continues to monitor its drivers long term, Staver says. The company has both city and long-haul drivers. “City drivers we see frequently, and they’re a little bit easier to score, such as by how much brake do they bring back every day or are there any issues with customers,” Staver says.


Credit: Saia

Long-haul drivers are harder to evaluate. Saia has installed camera systems in its trucks that save a recording of 10 seconds prior to certain trigger events, such as a hard-braking situation. The company gets an email alert and then can look at the recording and assess the event for the root cause, such the driver following another vehicle too closely, getting cut off, or avoiding debris on the road, Staver says.

When the company piloted the system, they put it in 10 trucks in the Los Angeles area. The company found that generally its drivers were performing better than expected. “We were, frankly, shocked at the statistics that we got back,” Staver says. Nevertheless, there were a few drivers that needed correction. The videos themselves became coaching tools. “It was great to turn it around to the driver and say ‘tell me what you see,’” she says.

For hazardous materials, drivers are taught how understand bills of lading and to recognize whether shipments are appropriately labeled and sturdily packaged, as well as how to block and brace materials in trailers and what placards to use on the outside. “If there is a release, they are trained on the sequence of emergency events that needs to happen,” Staver says. “Drivers are not first responders,” she adds. “We teach them to notify and find a safe harbor, including don’t park by a drain or a creek.” On the back of company badges is an 800 number to reach in-house safety professionals who are available around the clock and have more extensive hazardous materials training and experience. Saia also contacts with emergency response vendors that can be called in as necessary to handle chemical releases as necessary.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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