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Fleet Card Fuels Interview – Business of Safety Impact

The ASSE Council on Practices and Standards (CoPS) is committed to developing and publishing materials, which demonstrate that investment in safety, health and the environment (SH&E) is an important business strategy for any organization. ASSE has thirteen practice specialties in the fields of Academics, Construction, Consultants, Engineering, Environmental, Healthcare, Industrial Hygiene, International, Management, Public Sector, Risk Management and Insurance, Mining and Transportation. The ASSE members included in these practice specialties are leaders in their field and have the needed knowledge and expertise to move safety and health forward on a global level.

This interview is sponsored by the CoPS Business of Safety Committee (BoSC). The BoSC, a resource for data gathering, document preparation and professional information, encourages investment in SH&E as a sound business strategy that positively impacts an organization’s bottom line.

Henry Medina is the General Manager/Chief Operating Officer of Fleet Card Fuels and the Chair for Fleet Card Fuels’ sister companies, Nicholas Tank Lines and Cal Valley Engineering. He has worked for Fleet Card Fuels for two years.

Medina’s interest in safety began with his father, a coal miner, and then continued with his service in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. His Army experience “awakened” him to personal safety and inspired him to attend college. Watching his father pass away from the effects of coal dust in his lungs further motivated Medina to pursue a safety career.

He worked in finance for 17 years and served as the Vice President of Finance for a publicly held company. He then moved into operations, where his interest and skills in developing and implementing strategic plans could be used.

Medina holds a bachelor of science degree from the University of Southern California (USC) and a master of business administration degree from Woodbury University. He also participated in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Executive Program, and he has attended the University of Virginia.

BoSC : Please provide a brief history of your company.

Medina: Founded over 40 years ago, Fleet Card Fuels is a wholesale fuel sales operation that has business affiliations with 100 locations, seven of which are company-owned. As the company grew, it established sister companies to provide transport of the fuel (Nicholas Tank Lines) and construction, maintenance and environmental services (Cal Valley Engineering) associated with the distribution and retail sale of fuel. Nicholas Tank Lines currently has 22 tankers that deliver fuel to the company and to other fuel retail sales locations. Cal Valley Engineering also provides services to locations in addition to Fleet Card Fuels’ facilities.

Fleet Card Fuels caters to the fleet business. The system primarily operates on a card lock system; however, sale to the public also occurs. Fleet Card Fuels’ locations offer a variety of services such as food services, shower facilities and Internet access to help truck drivers manage their loads and reduce costly deadhead (empty, non-paying) trips. The company continually looks for innovative ways to streamline the management process of fleet management, thereby reducing the long-term costs to the customer.

Recently, the company has created an employee stock ownership program (ESOP) in which employees now own 15% of the company. Eventually, employees will become the majority owner.

BoSC : What is your philosophy regarding SH&E investment, and how does it fit into the strategic goals and objectives of Fleet Card Fuels?

Medina: You have to develop a culture of caring. Safety reflects the moral responsibility from which decisions are made. These are often greater than any legal ramifications. Experiencing a serious injury in the workplace will change you forever. Responsibility for decision making cannot be taken lightly because it affects so many people.

Safety is captured in Fleet Card Fuels’ mission and value statement. Essentially, all employees should go home with all their limbs and body intact. Safety cannot be given lip service—it is serious and must be a priority. Safety is a way of life and working. I have fired seven people over my thirty-four-year career, three of which were for safety issues. This shows that safety must be taken seriously. It is not that you want to fire people, but for safety to work, you must be prepared to take action if necessary.

The company has been changing its safety culture. Even though safety has always been a part of this caring company, people did not know how to go about it. Fleet Card Fuels has implemented a new comprehensive safety program, and we are beginning to see the benefits.

BoSC : Have you calculated the cost of your SH&E investment and the return you have received on that investment?

Medina: The cost of Fleet Card Fuels’ SH&E investment has been more than offset by the reduction in insurance premium savings in the past two years. In that time, Fleet Card Fuels has reduced the experience modification on workers’ compensation insurance from 177% (1.77) to 133% (1.33), and it is expected to reduce it further in the coming policy year. The goal is to have it in the 70% (.70) range where it will be maintained. The experience modification has not been the only measure of SH&E investment. The company group (Fleet Card Fuels, Nicholas Tank Lines, Cal Valley Engineering) has reduced insurance premiums from $900,000 annually to $392,000 currently. The safety emphasis throughout the entire group has had this effect. We know the cost of not having safety.

BoSC : Fleet Card Fuels is a good-sized company, but it does not have the resources of a Fortune 500 Company. How does a company such as Fleet Card Fuels address SH&E issues to ensure that investment in SH&E has a positive impact on the bottom line? Do you see yourself as a small business or as more of a mid-sized company?

Medina: Fleet Card Fuels sees itself as a mid-sized company. As stated in the answer to the previous question, the goal is to see the experience modification reach the 70s. The financial savings are used to pay for and enhance safety. By being proactive with safety, Fleet Card Fuels is creating a safe and enjoyable environment. This starts with seeking and recruiting the right people and then retaining them once they are on board. Also, the company continues to increase safety knowledge and is tackling the health side of safety by providing a wellness program. All of this positively impacts the bottom line by retaining a healthy workforce in a safe environment.

BoSC : What has driven you to be a champion of SH&E issues?

Medina: In short, experience in a manufacturing environment. I experienced both personal safety concerns (the Army) and serious occupational injuries. It is these serious occupational injuries (amputations, crushes) that have had life-changing effects. When you are sitting in the hospital room with a seriously injured employee, it makes you never want to experience that kind of thing ever again.

BoSC : With respect to Fleet Card Fuels’ investment in SH&E, do you view SH&E performance to be more of a management responsibility, an employee function or more of a cross-team initiative?

Medina: Both. Management has the responsibility to provide the tools to work safely, while employees have the responsibility to make it happen. Safety must change behavior and be a constant process of improvement.

BoSC : In your position, have you ever found it necessary to intervene on behalf of safety and health at Fleet Card Fuels?

Medina: Safety has been elevated to its significance—saying it is different from living it. Fleet Card Fuels has elevated its significance by allocating people, resources and dollars.

BoSC : Our members report that at times safety professionals do not seem to receive the highest attention from senior management. What are your suggestions and recommendations for communication strategies that safety professionals can use to better interact with senior management at large organizations?

Medina: First, safety cannot be delegated to a low level in the organization. Someone on the Executive Committee must have safety responsibility. Consider using outside safety professionals because they are independent and have no political ties within the organization. They can help with the checks and balances of the process, help implement safety and create a partnership to develop a relationship of trust.

BoSC : Some SH&E professionals believe they have less of an opportunity than other professionals to advance to the top echelons of major organizations. Do you see this as a real issue or as a misperception that needs to be corrected?

Medina: This is a real issue. There is a change taking place in the economy; less industry and more services. As a result, opportunities for safety professionals to advance are becoming limited. Instead, safety professional opportunities lie in outsourcing.

BoSC : What advice do you have for SH&E professionals who wish to advance into senior management? In what areas do you think we as a profession need to improve if we are to move into senior-level management positions?

Medina: Select an industry and company that want a safety professional, one where safety is an issue, not a service. The target and focus is on financial resources. Safety professionals need to educate, train and sell for the opportunity. It will not just come to them.

BoSC : How can SH&E professionals make the argument to senior management that investment in SH&E makes good business sense?

Medina: Executives need to understand safety and how it applies to their business. This can be done from a financial, health and legal perspective, but it also needs to be related to the business function, and more importantly, to the moral responsibility to provide a safe workplace for all employees.

BoSC : How do you view OSHA compliance? We consider OSHA compliance the bare minimum, but you may have a different perspective from managing your own operations.

Medina: OSHA provides a structure, but safety goes beyond OSHA. Safety is a moral and financial issue. If there is a risk, investments must be made to ensure a safe environment.

BoSC : What motivates SH&E at Fleet Card Fuels?

Medina: Caring about people. The owners of this organization care about the employees who work at Fleet Card Fuels as if they were their own children. Their process of decision making includes a high degree of discernment with a focus on serving their employees.

BoSC : What do you believe motivates SH&E in the workplace?

Medina: Moral concern for people, with economics playing a role. Legal concerns can also motivate by fear, and managers certainly must be aware of the litigious issues associated with safety. As managers, we can carry a high risk, but we have to be able to sleep at night knowing that safety in our organization is a priority.

BoSC : If you could send a message to our members regarding the future of SH&E and the workplace, what would it be?

Medina: With the economy’s change in focus, ASSE members should concentrate on the following areas:

  • Education—tie it to a moral and ethical responsibility.
  • Economics—understand economics as it applies to the business and industry.
  • Risk/Litigation—relate how lawsuits can affect the company and managers personally. They should understand their exposure and the risks they truly take.
  • Training—continuous.
  • Follow-up—to ensure compliance and to seek new safety tools.
  • Consultants—use an independent consultant to test your safety system on an ongoing basis.

BoSC : Any final thoughts or suggestions you would like to share with our members?

Medina: The ASSE should hold seminars to educate people about safety and businesses. Advisory groups, such as the BoSC, could then offer even more valuable insight.