Fleet Technology Is Taking our Safety Culture to the Next Level

When industrial Internet of Things provider Samsara first notified Sprint Waste Services about winning the Samsara 2020 Top Fleet Award for Safest Fleet, it took a few minutes for the honor to sink in. After all, Sprint Waste is a relatively new user of the Samara fleet management technology — the system had been installed on our 350-plus fleet for a little more than a year — and faced stiff competition from world-class companies and brands with much larger fleets and budgets. After the initial celebrations, we sat down with President Dave Nelson and Vice President of Collections Christopher Russ, who led the company’s Samsara integration project, to get more insight into how dash cams and fleet data are taking Sprint Waste’s safety culture to the next level.

Q: Sprint Waste Services has an enviable safety record with some impressive hardware to back up that performance. Do you ever get tired of talking about safety?

Nelson: Never. We believe in our safety story, and our process. Our strategy has always been to empower all of our employees to be “safety managers,” give them quality training and good, well-maintained trucks equipped with cutting-edge safety systems, and now Samsara is our latest addition. 

Q: The other finalists in your category were global food and commodities giant ADM and West Coast beverage and bottler Swire Coca Cola USA, both enormous fleets and budgets by any standard. Was it daunting to go up against larger fleets?

Russ: We really didn’t think of this as a competition. We saw this as an opportunity to tell our safety story. We can’t control how we are compared to others. At the end of the day, each of these companies, and Sprint Waste, just want to be as safe as possible. We knew Samsara’s user base included more than 1,500 companies, all of which have made strong commitments to safety by investing in the Samsara technology in the first place. We congratulate all of the finalists and winners and are so humbled to be recognized among them. We’re excited for the opportunity to interact with the other Samsara top fleet winners and finalists in the coming year. We learn so much from other companies in other industries and look forward to putting key learnings into action to improve our efforts here.

Nelson: We may be a smaller company with a relatively small fleet, but we have big-company capabilities and we think big about safety. We have to. Our largest customers are some of the most well-known industrial companies in the world — including huge refining and petrochemical complexes— and they count on our proven safety record and industry-best practices to keep their operations running seamlessly and safely.

Q: So what sets you apart from larger and more established fleets? 

Nelson: We focus on doing the basics right. Fundamentals. Blocking and tackling. We are strict about following what we call our Safety Calendar, a disciplined, documented and highly scheduled approach to ensuring safety is built into every level of our operations. Activities on the calendar include employee-led safety meetings at each location, mock level 2 inspections and red tag inspections, supervisor ride-alongs, and close integration with our customers and onsite plant teams. All activities on our safety calendar have defined owners, deadlines and accountabilities.

Russ: And the Samsara system took it all to the next level. The fleet management technology helped integrate our existing systems and brought video evidence and tremendous data to what we were already doing. Everyone learns by seeing. Seeing is believing, if you will, and we knew the videos and the data would be incredibly powerful if we used them properly.

Q: You were very intentional in how you rolled out the new dash cams and fleet navigation system with your drivers, mechanics and operations staff. 

Nelson: Right. From the very beginning, Chris took the lead to create an implementation  plan for all of our trucks, but even more importantly, he created a comprehensive program for how to optimize the system to improve our safety culture, making sure every person who touched the system was properly trained. 

Russ: But this is much bigger than one person. Our operations managers took ownership and drove buy-in from all of our drivers and dispatchers. Our maintenance team developed the process to ensure that Samsara data was utilized to fix trucks each night based on driver inputs. And our safety team uses the data and videos to identify trends and develop training, exonerate drivers at accident scenes, and develop safety meeting materials. It’s a huge, ongoing team effort. And it has been very successful for Sprint Waste.

Q: How did you get your teams to buy into your vision so quickly?

Nelson: When we were considering how to roll out our new fleet system, we knew driver acceptance would make or break our success. We regularly hire drivers and operations staff from other trucking companies, and for years we had heard horror stories about their experiences about how videos were used by some other companies. We listened to them. We realized cameras were often used to punish drivers. Our goal was to have cameras be constructive for our drivers — exonerate them when incidents occurred, teach them, recognize them for great driving. From the beginning we focused on showing positive videos, emphasizing exonerations and using videos for safety training (lane merges, for example). 

Russ: And Dave put a dash cam in his own vehicle, so everyone knew the president of the company was living by the same rules.

Nelson: Yes, I put the system in my personal truck, and when we went to meet with employees to introduce it in safety meetings, I talked about how I was being monitored as well (and told funny stories about it). I can empathize with the drivers. Also, I have found that having the system in my personal vehicle has helped me to be a better defensive driver.

Q: Tell us more about “coach up, not out.”

Russ: From the beginning, we made a concentrated effort to focus on the positives — on learning, training and improving. On mentoring, teamwork and coaching. Our safety culture is a badge of honor at our company, and it didn’t happen overnight. Everyone here wants to welcome new employees and show them how we operate at Sprint, how we don’t cut corners on safety, how we learn from each other and our mistakes. 

And while we have high expectations of all of our employees and want them to do their best, we don’t want them to be overly fearful of making mistakes. We want everyone to focus on doing their part and getting better at their jobs. Our drivers appreciate this respectful approach. It builds good habits as well as loyalty.

Q: You attributed extensive savings to exonerated drivers. Why was that so important to your company?

Nelson: Accidents happen at any trucking company, and the financial costs in damaged equipment, lost time and possible litigation can be enormous. We do exhaustive root cause analyses of every accident. One of the things we tracked was whether sending the Samsara accident video to the scene allowed our driver to be exonerated. We confirmed that in roughly half our accidents, the Samsara video was able to exonerate our driver on the spot. This is huge! We have billboard lawyers here that love to sue trucking companies, and many of those cases pay out because of fear rather than hard data. Our videos make that very hard. We’ve been able to send videos to the scene of the accident so law enforcement can view evidence on the scene. We’ve also had cases against us dismissed because of video evidence. 

Q: What other results stood out?

Russ: We reduced driver “time over speed” by 58%. Although we didn’t have a speeding problem in the first place, we were able to set parameters in Samsara to send speed alerts so we could address any issues quickly. When someone knows they are being observed, their behavior changes. We also tracked miles per event using Samsara data and odometer readings, and found we increased our miles per event by almost 51%. The old adage, “that which is measured, improves” is simple, effective and true. The key is how we use the information and communicate with our drivers so it is not punitive, but constructive. 

Q: So now that you’ve won this award, what’s next for your dash cam technology? What features do you plan to explore in the coming year?

Russ: We’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible with our fleet management system, and we’re excited to set some new parameters and see where the data takes us. Like all businesses, we’ll be challenged by safety and health issues related to the worldwide pandemic. Using technology to operate safely and efficiently — and demonstrate compliance and accountability — will be more important than ever. Samsara has a “driver ranking and gamification” feature that will be rolled out soon. Drivers will see how they measure up against their peers. We wanted to make sure the information was accurate and consistent before we rolled this out. These features will help us determine who we need to coach, and reward the drivers demonstrating good driving habits for a more proactive approach.

Nelson: We couldn’t be happier about the early results from our Samsara system — and of course we’re thrilled to be recognized with the Samsara Top Fleets Award — but we never rest on our laurels. We’ve set some ambitious goals in the coming year to make sure we don’t get complacent or take good habits for granted. I want this award to encourage, engage and inspire our drivers, our shop, our safety teams and our back-office staff to find new and creative ways to keep up the good safety work. I’m proud of our team and can’t wait to see what they do next!

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