Safety concerns continue to challenge fleet operations of all sizes. On average, 21 percent of fleet vehicles are involved in some form of crash each year, according to data from several accident management companies. Today, more fleet managers are turning to safer vehicles in an effort to help increase driver safety and mitigate rising accident costs.
Consulting engineering firm Terracon, based in Olathe, Kan., made such a change when it implemented an initiative to switch from smaller, light-duty trucks to a ½-ton pickup fleet for greater load capacity and increased safety.
Terracon was initially founded in 1965 and has evolved into a successful multidiscipline firm specializing in environmental, facilities, geotechnical, and materials engineering consulting. With more than 3,000 employees in 140 offices across 40 states, the company also partners with its U.S. clients to serve their international needs.
The company provides services on thousands of projects each year. And, according to Ginny Liddle, CAFM, buyer II for Terracon, the fleet plays a large part in the company delivering exceptional customer service.
"By being responsive, resourceful, and reliable, we strive to exceed our clients' expectations for service, solutions, quality, and speed of delivery," she explained. "Based on a deep understanding of our clients' needs, Terracon's commitment is centered on these key objectives."
Safety Evaluation Leads to Important Discoveries
Terracon's fleet consists of approximately 1,400 ½- and 1-ton pickups, 60 vans and SUVs, 82 semi tractors, and 87 drill rigs. Because fleet drivers include consulting engineers and scientists, employees need a variety of vehicles to work on construction sites, make land and building inspections, and perform land and water drilling for foundation recommendations. The company's replacement guideline falls at four years/110,000 miles.
In 2007, the company's fleet management evaluated its trucks for productivity and safety. And, in examining its accidents for the previous two years, the fleet team realized that it had many rollovers in smaller trucks, while noting only one in a ½-ton pickup and one in a van.
Another discovery encompassed repair history. When fleet management examined the repair history, it found vehicles were going through brakes quicker and the number of suspension problems was increasing at an unexpected rate.
"In 2008, after working with our leasing company doing a total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis comparing small trucks and ½-tons, we found it would actually be a cost savings by transitioning to just the ½-ton truck," Liddle said. "The safety factor in a larger truck would increase as well."
The fleet currently uses the Ford F-150 and chose this model based on hard data.
"We were running a few Rams and F-150s at that time, and we received the best rebates from Ford and Chrysler," Liddle said. "With the data our leasing company had on all the trucks, we compared the ½-ton trucks and smaller trucks for total cost of ownership and found that the Ford F-150 would give us our best results."
Initiative Results in Significant Operational Benefits
The switch from small trucks to ½-ton pickups resulted in significant savings for Terracon. In fact, the company lowered its TCO, increased safety, improved load capacity, and even increased driver morale.
The ½-ton trucks were made safer as a result of their improved capacity and ability to make the job more efficient.
"We did not need to overload them to get the job completed," Liddle said.
The fleet team also put safety nets on all the truck beds to ensure that equipment, samples, etc., did not fall out of the truck for increased public safety.
In fact, since the company's study showing 11 rollovers in 2006-2007, only three rollovers have occurred in the remaining small trucks in service, and none in the ½-ton pickups.
Driver productivity also increased, because each new vehicle could hold more samples and equipment. And, downtime decreased since less maintenance was required. The fleet had fewer trips to the shop for brakes and suspension issues, and tires have lasted longer.
"Our drivers applauded the change as they were given a more functional, safer, efficient tool to complete their work," Liddle stated.
Completing the Conversion Process
Terracon has been replacing the smaller trucks since 2008 and have less than 100 units left. While the recession slowed the replacement schedule, Liddle expects the entire conversion to be completed soon.
"Our move to larger vehicles would not have been possible without support from upper management," she said. "Terracon's senior management is very good at evaluating current and future business trends and adapting our strategic plan accordingly."
The company has also increased its safety department from two people to five people. And, as its fleet grew, the company's senior management recognized the need to increase its safety role with employees, so that all employees live in an incident- and injury-free culture and arrive home safely every day.
Moving forward, Terracon's fleet department will continue to evaluate vehicles to ensure they supply employees with the correct vehicle for the job and continue to upgrade safety features.
"This year, we will add the backup camera to our 2014 models to assist in backing safely," she concluded.