NAHAD Hose Safety Institute Advisory Council Member Steve Niswander, Vice President of Safety Policy & Regulatory Relations for Groendyke Transport Inc.
Steve Niswander has been with Groendyke Transport Inc., which operates a large fleet of tank trucks coast to coast, for 34 years. He is active in the ATA, the NTTC, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the Oklahoma Hazardous Materials and Emergency Response Council. He is the recipient of numerous safety awards and was recently named Chairman of the Research Advisory Council for the American Transportation Research Institute. Niswander is a member of the NAHAD Hose Safety Institute Advisory Council.
NAHAD: Tell me about Groendyke Transport.
Steve Niswander: Groendyke Transport was started in Beaver, OK, in 1932. It started with one man, Harold Groendyke, hauling gasoline from Beaver to the Panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma and to Kansas. It started with one truck, and today we have a thousand trucks.
We do about 75 million miles a year. About 45 percent of it is gasoline, another 40 percent by dollars is chemical and we also haul other things like flour.
NAHAD: How long have you been with the company, and what has kept you there?
Niswander: I started there in 1979, when they needed someone to help out in the safety department. Back then, that department took care of everything from human resources, to safety and training and emergency response - we kind of did it all. That morphed into the safety side of the company and HR kind of split out of it.
So I really enjoy the safety aspect of it. Another part of what has kept me here is that the founder, Harold Groendyke, made several statements that impacted me. One is that Groendyke is a large company: it moves slowly, but it’s always positive. That always really hit home with me. Another one he challenged our drivers with is: “There’s no load too hot that won’t cool in any ditch.” That was his way of saying to take your time when you’re driving.
NAHAD: Groendyke is a six-time Heil Trophy winner for best overall safety record and program. What has driven the success of your safety program?
Niswander: The drivers. You can put everything in the world out there to tell people what to do, but if they don’t have the motivation to do it for themselves, their company or their follow employees, it’s not going to work.
The first Heil we got was in 1973, and we followed that up in 1975. I was involved with the ones we won in 1990 and 1991. What’s unique about that is that one of the six things that gets you the Heil is improvement over the previous year, so it really means something to win two years in a row. We did the same thing in 1999 and 2000, and we’re the only tank truck company to win the Heil back-to-back twice.
NAHAD: What challenges or opportunities has Groendyke encountered recently?
Niswander: Hiring drivers. The baby boomers are retiring, so you’ve got to find someone to replace them. The tank trucking industry is kind of in a doldrums in the fact that we haul hazardous materials, and because it’s considered dangerous, we don’t allow drivers to drive the truck unless they are 23 years of age for hauling hazardous material. Once people fresh out of high school get started in some other career, they don’t want to start all over. So we’ve got to find a way to bridge that gap from graduation to helping the person get their CDL and be able to drive nationwide and get a hazmat endorsement.
NAHAD: You were recently named Chairman of the Research Advisory Council for the American Transportation Research Institute. Can you tell a bit about that?
Niswander: I’ve been on that committee for four years. There’re about 25 people on there from state infrastructure, academia, various kinds of trucking and van companies, and even a transportation attorney. When I first got on there, they did a study on parts of the infrastructure in the U.S. as far as where traffic jams happen. There’s a stretch of road in Houston, for example, where if you were driving there from two to four in the afternoon, you could drive it in 7 minutes. But if you were there from four thirty to seven thirty, it would take you 35 minutes for the same stretch. So we take that information and pass it along, hoping transport companies use it to dispatch people around those areas. We also pass it along to the federal government.
We did a similar study on rollover accidents. There are, for example, five areas in Atlanta where they average five rollovers in a 60-day period. So that’s another thing we fed to the government.
NAHAD: How did you originally get involved with NAHAD? Why did you become a Hose Safety Institute Advisory Council member?
Niswander: We got involved because the president of our company had heard about it and he asked me to check into it. The more I checked into it, the more excited I got, because we haul between 250,000 and 300,000 loads every year, and every one of those is loaded through a hose.
One of our problems we have is in determining the lifetimes of those hoses and how they are used. For example, if we’re unloading gasoline in Phoenix, AZ, where it’s 114 degrees, that hose has different problems than the ones in Riverton, WY, where it’s 30 below and we’re unloading acid. There’s a whole realm of factors, and we’re excited to use the resources of the council to learn more about that.
NAHAD: How has your background helped you to contribute to the goals of the Council?
Niswander: When I found out about NAHAD, I was hoping that we could make a difference through National Tank, where we have about 220 tank truck carriers and we use hoses every day. We were hoping we could make an impression on manufacturers, and get some information as to how those hoses are made, and encourage them to give us some distinctions on them as far as what they need to be used for and how long they last. I think in working together, we can help both industries, and it would also be an environmental win-win.
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