Between a low number of drivers entering the waste industry and a high number of hauler truck-involved accidents occurring out on the road, Robert Bourcheau, the corporate operations trainer for Longwood, Florida-based Waste Pro, knew something needed to be done.
Out of those problems, Waste Pro’s Co-Heart program was born.
Bourcheau founded the Co-Heart program five years ago as a way to help develop safer, more educated commercial driver’s license (CDL) drivers. The program aims to take helpers from the back of the truck to the driver’s seat through a comprehensive training program that emphasizes safe operations.
“We have instructors and trainers in place, and we are cultivating our helpers and helping them get promoted to the driver’s seat,” Bourcheau says.
In order to oversee the program, Bourcheau received his credentials from the state of Florida and became a state and federal examiner. Waste Pro also designed its training facilities to be in compliance with the state as a designated testing site.
The program is designed to teach advanced backing and driving skills, rollover prevention and other techniques that can help keep both drivers and pedestrians safe on the street.
While the program has a comprehensive driver safety focus, preventing rollover accidents is one area in particular Bourcheau emphasizes.
“About five years ago, when I first started here, accidents were pretty prevalent from somewhat transient CDL drivers who were not really familiar with our trucks,” Bourcheau says.
Collection trucks tend to be a little bit higher than other trucks out on the road, Bourcheau explains, so it is easier for them to roll when making left turns.
“The blade pushes the garbage up and the profile of the truck starts to lean toward the passenger side. You are driving the same rate of speed around corners, and you make a left turn. Now all the liquid starts to shift right, and all the garbage is piled on the right side and the truck is already leaning to the right. When you take a left turn, it doesn’t take much to roll those vehicles over,” Bourcheau says.
When trucks are involved in rollover accidents, both the expenses and worker injuries can come at a steep cost. Each vehicle costs approximately $400,000, Bourcheau says. The minimum damage to a truck that has rolled over is around $80,000 “if you just roll it over nice and neat,” Bourcheau says, which is rarely the case. In the worst cases, it is not uncommon for workers to lose their lives during a rollover incident, which is why Bourcheau says potential drivers receive a separate diploma for completing a class dedicated to preventing these incidents.
In addition to roll-over prevention, safe braking is another area of emphasis students are trained on.
“Every time someone has an accident, we ask them how it happened, and they say the brakes didn’t work. It is the first thing they always say,” Bourcheau explains.
While participating in the program, helpers also learn what it takes to prepare for a successful day behind the wheel. One topic that is prioritized is the importance of having a good pre-trip routine. Not only can this help ensure safe operation, Bourcheau says, but it also promotes efficiency on the road and reduces downtime.
“[Drivers] need to make sure their equipment is running properly and that there are no leaks, their tires are good and the vehicle is generally in good condition,” Bourcheau says.
Bourcheau says that on top of promoting safety, the program is an opportunity for helpers looking for a promotion. Because helpers already know the trucks and the routes, they are the best individuals to attain their CDLs and begin driving.
“What was obvious to me is that the helpers that were on the back for two, three, five, 10 and even 20 years picking up garbage were more familiar with the routes, more familiar with the trucks and more familiar with our company than new drivers from other industries,” Bourcheau says. “Who better to take over a truck and promote than a helper who doesn’t have to worry about directions? ... It became obvious that if there was a way to promote them to a driver and get them a CDL, we would mitigate our accidents quite a bit.”
Advancing to the role of a driver through the program also guarantees a pay raise, almost doubling the helpers’ current salaries, Bourcheau says.
Besides offering a pay increase after completion, a unique feature of the Co-Heart program is the low financial burden to participate. When taking the CDL test through Waste Pro, helpers only have to pay $300, as opposed to traditional schools that charge up to $5,000.
“These helpers have all the potential to become a driver, but they never had the opportunity before,” Bourcheau says. “The $300 spent on the CDL test can also be earned back through completing a full year of driving without being in an accident.”
Waste Pro’s safety awards present another incentive for safe driving.
“After four years of perfect attendance and perfect driving, drivers can receive $10,000,” Bourcheau says. “If they make a mistake, time starts over for them.”
Because Bourcheau is representing the state and not the company in his role as examiner, drivers who pass the CDL test also have to undergo separate Waste Pro training, which, according to Bourcheau, is more difficult than the training the state requires.
“We try to weed out people who can’t handle those trucks or who are not comfortable in the trucks,” Bourcheau states.
Although initial training is critical, ongoing education is just as important for maintaining a CDL, Bourcheau says.
Existing drivers are required by the Department of Transportation to participate in annual training sessions. Bourcheau says this yearly requirement keeps CDL drivers updated on changes to laws and aware of current events in the industry.
Expanding the program
While the Co-Heart program originated in Florida, the company is looking to branch out. Waste Pro also runs the Co-Heart program out of Jackson, Mississippi, with its own state inspector and is currently looking for other areas where it makes sense to train potential drivers.
“The Co-Heart program is expanding and growing,” Bourcheau says. “Our Co-Heart program … is the shining star of the company because it is the future. It is only getting stronger. As [Waste Pro] grows across the Southeast, so does the program.”
“We want to provide opportunities that can allow members of our team to achieve and feel like an important part of our company. [Those who go through the Co-Heart program are] doing something special,” says John Jennings, chairman and CEO of Waste Pro. “The Co-Heart program certainly is an important component of making our employees feel a part of this winning team.”
Reflecting on his work building the program, Bourcheau says the training has been invaluable in helping collection professionals advance in their careers.
“Five years later, we have almost 200 helpers that range anywhere from 120 days to 20 years at our company that have been promoted to drivers. We have a return rate of 73 percent, as opposed to regular drivers at around 34 percent. This program has been so beneficial.”
While retaining drivers has long been an industrywide issue, Bourcheau says the program’s potential to help the company build its workforce is limitless.
“Don’t bet against Waste Pro,” Bourcheau says. “I’m looking forward to major growth.”