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April 10, 2014  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Contractors see safety as an investment

Executives for some of North America's largest school bus companies discuss how allocating resources toward such efforts as driver training and preventive maintenance can benefit the operation by improving safety and employee morale, which, in turn, enhances profitability.

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  • Michele McDermott, senior vice president, safety and human resources
    <p>Michele McDermott, senior vice president, safety and human resources</p>

National Express Corp.
Warrenville, Ill.

Is safety profitable?
Safety is an investment that will always pay dividends. Every dollar we spend on safety is going to come back to us in safe operations, happy employees and satisfied customers. That absolutely pays off. Safety is the pathway to many good things, including profitability and good customer relations.

How does a safe operation help contractors succeed from a business perspective?
From a business perspective, safety allows for an efficient and effective operation. Safety is one core value that we use to guide us in our decision-making process. We view everything through the lens of safety, and with that as our backdrop it leads to successful business operations.

Tell us about some of the safety-related initiatives and programs in place at National Express Corp.
Our safety program is all-encompassing, from the recruiting process to the training initiatives when an employee is on board. We put safety first — it’s our No. 1 value.

There are many initiatives we are always looking at, and one is different onboard technology [for school buses] to enhance our safety program.
A second initiative that we have in place is the “Safety Brigade,” which is our safety theme for 2014. It’s a way to bring everyone in the company — no matter what their role is — together around our core value.

  • At National Express Corp., all employees have signed a proclamation that they’re enlisting in the company’s Safety Brigade.
    <p>At National Express Corp., all employees have signed a proclamation that they’re enlisting in the company’s Safety Brigade.</p>

We kicked off the program in February with every employee signing a proclamation to enlist in the brigade. It was a great ritual to get everyone’s personal buy-in.

As a Safety Brigade, our shared purpose is to protect our riders, our employees and those around us by always putting safety first. We are primarily made up of drivers, but we can’t forget that everyone in the company has an effect on safety.

A third initiative we’ve put into place is a support program for our technicians to become ASE-certified master technicians. The company is reimbursing the costs for taking ASE certification tests and has also established a recognition program.

Number of school buses: Over 21,000
School district contracts: Over 450
Company head: David Duke, president and CEO


  • John Benish, Jr., chief operating officer
    <p>John Benish, Jr., chief operating officer</p>

Cook-Illinois Corp.
Oak Forest, Ill.

Is safety profitable?
Yes, it is always profitable to be safe. Cutting corners in any area regarding safety makes no sense. Lack of training or lack of maintenance, for example, increase your chances of having problems in the future and will certainly catch up with you — it’s just a matter of time.

Also, school districts need to understand that choosing low-dollar bids is sometimes not the correct choice when it comes to school busing. Most districts will not take the lowest bidder for services such as legal or architects, but they will for school buses. Choosing the right carrier always comes down to safety.

Number of school buses: 2,248
School district contracts: Over 200
Company head: John Benish Jr., chief  operating officer

  • Don Weir,director of safety and compliance
    <p>Don Weir,<br />director of safety and compliance</p>

Student Transportation Inc.
Wall, N.J.

Is safety profitable?
Our business is built on a culture around safety, from our driver recruitment and training programs all the way to our intensive preventive maintenance programs. Our job is to transport students to and from school safely each day. To operate safely is an investment in our business.

How does a safe operation help contractors succeed from a business perspective?
There are many financial benefits to operating with the highest level of safety. The safety of our operations affects our employees’ and customers’ well-being, our insurance costs, maintenance costs and vehicle downtime. For example, our maintenance and insurance costs go down if we are safer because that reduces accidents.

More importantly, when we perform our duties safely every day, our customers are more likely to renew or extend our contracts and even refer us to other schools that seek the same level of safety. Keeping our people, our passengers and the public safe is a very successful way to do business.

Number of school buses: 11,000
School district contracts: 275
Company head: Denis J. Gallagher, chairman and CEO

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