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Safety first at Verst: Driver and equipment initiatives at Verst Group Logistics are resulting in impressive safety performance

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Chris Cusick

Chris Cusick

“When it comes to safety, we are best served by addressing behaviors, focusing on avoiding and preventing risk,” says Christopher Cusick, vice president, transportation at Verst Group Logistics. “We don’t need to spend time teaching drivers how to drive trucks.”

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Verst Group, headquartered in the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati, Ohio, corridor, is taking a multi-faceted approach to risk avoidance, prevention and management, beginning with hiring the right drivers in the first place.

“We work with employment agencies, run ads and have a referral program for our drivers,” Cusick explains. “Candidates are shown a video that details company procedures and expectations. It’s a very effective screening tool.”

Once hired, drivers complete an orientation program that includes a two-day ride along with a company driver trainer to become familiar with Verst Group operating procedures. Cusick also notes that all company policies are detailed in a comprehensive driver handbook.

One highly proactive approach to safety at Verst Group is its use of the SmartDrive Safety program, which captures in-vehicle video to focus on driving behaviors that need attention. The SmartDrive interface and the program’s customizable reporting and video clip scoring process, aid Verst’s driver managers in coaching drivers on specific areas of behavior needing improvement such as distracted driving, fatigue, speeding and seatbelt use.

Verst Group Tractor SpecificationsModel: Peterbilt Model 384; 63-in. UltraCab sleeperWheelbase: 235 in.

Engine: PACCAR MX; 455 HP @ 1,900 RPM, 1,650 lb./ft. @ 1,100 RPM

Clutch: Eaton Easy Pedal

Transmission: Eaton Fuller 13-speed

Driveshafts: Dana Spicer

Front Axle & Suspension: Dana Spicer; 12,000-lb. taper leaf springs

Power Steering: TRW TAS65

Rear Axle: Dana Spicer DSP41; 3.42 ratio

Rear Suspension: Peterbilt Low Air Leaf

Hubs: PHP10 Aluminum LMS

Brakes: Bendix

ABS: 4S/4M

Parking Brakes: Long Stroke

Wheels: Alcoa aluminum

Tires: Michelin; 11R22.5 XZA-3+ steer, 445/50R22.5 XOne-XDN2 drive

5th Wheel: HOLLAND FW35, kingpin air release

Air Compressor: Meritor WABCO 28 CFM

Air Dryer: Bendix AD-IS, heated

Fan Clutch: on/off

Batteries: (3) PACCAR 2100 CCA

Starter: PACCAR

Alternator: 160 amp

Immersion Pre-Heater: Phillips

Mirrors: motorized, heated; hood-mounted convex

Lighting: Truck-Lite LED

Seats: Peterbilt UltraRide

Fuel Tanks: aluminum; 120-gal. RH,

110-gal. LH

Paint: Dupont

Right direction

“I can’t stress how important SmartDrive Safety has been to supplementing our safety program because we lacked the ability to actually capture driving behavior,” Cusick states. “The SmartDrive event-triggered video system and the scores and observations generate actionable information for driver managers to use to make coaching more timely and effective during review sessions with drivers. The reports point us in the right direction.”

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That direction led to a downward trend in claims in 2011 and 2012, reductions in distracted driving of 90% and more than 70% fewer speeding incidents, as well as 100% seatbelt compliance. The company also proudly boasts a zero DOT reportable accident rate—the number of DOT reportable incidents divided by the miles driven—in 2012. “The zero DOT accident rate is an enormous achievement,” Cusick says, “one we hadn’t accomplished in several years.”

Multiple driver exonerations are also among the results that Verst Group cites as a benefit of using the SmartDrive Safety program and something that has gone a long way toward convincing drivers that the on-board cameras are there to protect them. There were five driver exonerations in 2012 with the help of videos, Cusick notes, at an approximate cost savings of over $30,000.

“We had a collision with one of our trucks and a pickup,” Cusick also relates. “The camera caught the pickup hitting a guard rail and coming over the highway divider. Initially, the police listed the accident as no fault, but once we showed them the footage officers faulted the pickup driver.”

Collision prevention

Verst Group also employs the collision avoidance driver training solution from Smith System. The Smith Five Keys program focuses on understanding driver behavior and teaching collision prevention techniques through hands-on and web-based training.

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Based on the easy-to-remember phrase ‘All Good Kids Like Milk’ the Smith Five Keys include: Aim high in steering by looking further ahead than other drivers; Get the big picture to see more around you than other drivers; Keep your eyes moving, so you are more aware of your surroundings; Leave yourself an out, by positioning your vehicle in traffic effectively; and Make sure they see you.

“The Smith System helps drivers see, think and increase time to react to driving challenges,” Cusick says. “Around each of the keys we develop policies that enhance risk prevention.”

Operating safely can add up for Verst Group drivers. A quarterly bonus is paid for meeting objectives, and if all goals are met for the year an extra bonus is paid.  After two years of success, the bonus is doubled. In addition, drawings are held quarterly and annually so drivers can win from $1,000 to as much as $10,000.

Verst Fleet Truck Driver

Once hired, drivers complete an orientation program that includes a two-day ride along with a company driver trainer to become familiar with Verst Group operating procedures.

Good ideas

The team approach also extends to monthly safety meetings, where a rotating group of drivers are encouraged to participate. “These meetings often produce good ideas,” Cusick says. “For example, one item brought to our attention by a driver is helping keep drivers away from trailer tandems.”

Trailer SpecificationsModel: Vanguard VXP dry van; composite plateLength: 53 ft.Landing Gear: HOLLAND Atlas 55

Axles & Suspension: SAF CBX40 Fusion Beam with PosiLok

Oil Seals: Stemco Guardian HP

Hubs/Wheel End: Stemco Platinum Performance Plus

Brakes: Abex linings

Brake Chambers: Bendix EverSure

ABS: Meritor WABCO

Automatic Slack Adjusters: Stemco

Tires: 295/75R22.5

Wheels: steel disc

Lighting & Electrical:  Optronics LED; Phillips

Cusick goes on to explain that each tractor at Verst Group now carries a device called semi tandem axle-release assist tool (STA-RAT) that is designed to eliminate risk when sliding trailer tandems. Placed between the tandem locking pin release handle and trailer frame rail, the tool allows drivers to release the pins and keep them retracted until the slide is completed.

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“STA-RAT is visible through the rear view mirror so drivers can see what’s happening without leaving the cab,” Cusick explains further. “The tool eliminates back and shoulder injuries and keeps hands and feet out of danger.”

Other specifications at Verst Group aimed at improving safety include back up alarms, hood-mounted convex mirrors and additional lights to assist during loading and unloading. On tractors, Verst Group is spec’ing the Holland fifth wheel air release system. The in-cab fifth wheel lock release features a dash-mounted air switch and a pneumatic cylinder on the fifth wheel that opens the locking mechanism when the vehicle’s parking brakes are engaged.

“This system reduces the time drivers spend manually locking and unlocking the fifth wheel,” Cusick states. “Less manual interaction limits potential injuries that can lead to expensive worker’s compensation claims.”

Fleet services

Smart Drive

Multiple driver exonerations are also among the results that Verst Group cites as a benefit of using the SmartDrive Safety program and something that has gone a long way toward convincing drivers that the on-board cameras are there to protect them.

Along with safety programs, Cusick oversees regional fleet, brokerage and dedicated fleet and logistics services offered by Verst Group for nearly 100 corporate customers. Verst Group Logistics provides integrated transportation, warehousing, logistics and packaging services. Its short haul and regional fleet services are concentrated in lanes covering the Midwest and Southeast. Customized contract carriage solutions are also offered by the company while its brokerage operation meets truckload, less than truckload, intermodal and flatbed needs.

The fleet has of 80 tractors. For its last two purchases, the company has opted for Peterbilt Model 384 units. Its 250 trailers include new Vanguard dry vans and older Trailmobile models. “For all equipment choices we’re looking for the best value over our planned life cycle, the highest residual value and the lowest maintenance costs,” Cusick says.

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Cusick notes, works closely with outsourced maintenance providers, including an approach aimed at achieving low CSA scores for maintenance items. “Maintenance issues also impact productivity,” he adds, “which is a big concern today under new Hours of Service regulations. With our providers we are finding better ways to manage DVIRs and fix problems immediately.”

Better performance

STA-RATThe company also uses Vigillo’s suite of CSA Scorecards to understand and address safety and compliance issues. “Vigillo takes raw data and turns it into reliable and useable information,” Cusick states. “With that at our fingertips we can develop programs and policies ahead of time so we stay below CSA thresholds, have better performance than our competitors, remain efficient and cost effective, and manage risk while maintaining a continual focus on driver safety, as well as that of the public.”

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