An innovative platform designed and used by dangerous goods and explosives specialist Chemtrans is delivering a level of training never before seen within the business – and it’s proving to have significant results, with a 51 per cent reduction in incidents since being implemented three years ago.
Now the company’s dangerous goods bulk tanker load/unloading simulator is gaining a great deal of attention outside of the business too, with Chemtrans taking out the National Training Excellence Award category at the 2020 National Trucking Awards last month.
“It’s certainly been very rewarding for the business, because this is a one of kind simulator in the bulk chemical business. We developed it ourselves – it was developed by the training and management team. It’s extremely rewarding that the industry has recognised our simulator as something that is highly beneficial,” says Paul Dale, Executive General Manager at K&S Energy & Chemtrans.
“For our team, it was extremely important to receive this sort of recognition. At Chemtrans, we are considered the benchmark of the industry, but we probably haven’t done a lot in promoting ourselves, so this is the first big recognition we’ve received. Chemtrans does a lot in the industry and is held in high regard by authorities, but we haven’t nominated ourselves for these sorts of awards in the past. In transport, there are a lot of hours and personal time put into it but not a lot of pats on the back – so this is a real pat on the back to everyone involved.”
Chemtrans is part of the K&S Group. It runs a national fleet of approximately 110 trucks, 80 tankers and 80 drop deck trailers, and employs around 150 drivers Australia-wide.
The idea for its driver training simulator came to fruition after Chemtrans noticed an increase in minor incident rates and near misses involving deliveries of Class 8 corrosive liquids in 2017. Though drivers were being thoroughly trained already, Chemtrans wanted to go a step further. It became apparent that the company’s training resources could be enhanced, so with that, the idea of a driver simulator was born.
Class 8 dangerous good products are acids that can cause serious injuries, environmental harm, and in the worst cases, even fatalities.
“We sat down and looked at loading and unloading of Class 8 chemicals. From that we determined the pitfalls and the risks for the drivers. Then we implemented what we would normally train drivers in on the task,” Dale explains.
“So the technology is based on the initial training. We developed a control board in-house, which is a series of valves and lights to show it’s working. That’s all in a scenario format that the driver has to follow and understand. It’s not highly technical but it’s what drivers have to deal with in real-life deliveries every day.”
The driver training simulator mimics real situations – but without the danger. Prior to the simulator being introduced, training for new drivers was predominantly on the job with a driver trainer for around six to eight weeks. Before new drivers went out on their own, they had to be deemed competent in all facets of loading and delivering.
Scott Harris, Trainer & Assessor Drivers at K&S Energy & Chemtrans NSW says, “From a driver trainer’s point of view I think the main strength of the platform is that you can test the driver’s product knowledge, manual handling skills and understanding of the Class 8 unloading procedure in many different scenarios, whereas on the job training is confined to one situation. You can also put potential problems in place without risk, for example loss of containment, overfill or product mix. I found the training works best with more than one driver as it gets positive conversation going about the importance of all aspects of the job and the importance of training.”
Dale adds that with acids, it’s extremely difficult to do hands-on training when you have such a dangerous chemical to work with. “We simply can’t afford to have drivers splashed in the face with acid. Instead of acid, the simulator uses water, but gives a real life understanding of what we do in our day to day operations of the business. Our drivers get real life training with no risk to them and plenty of safety systems in place.
“Through the mundane nature of the task at hand, where a driver might do the same thing five or six times a day, because they’ve never been sprayed with acid in the past, it’s very easy for anyone in our industry to cut corners, so the simulator emphasises the need for things to be done correctly. Not only do we receive fantastic results with incident levels going down, but drivers also become more confident in the job they are doing. Drivers get a lot out of using the simulator.”
Chemtrans driver Ray Fitzgerald says, “The platform makes you think through the task because you know that hurdles have been put in place that need to be identified. I think we can get complacent when doing the job long term, it’s a great reminder for drivers that are comfortable in the tasks to stay focused.”
Constructed on a 40ft flat rack, the simulator is fully mobile and visits the various Chemtrans facilities, transported by either road or rail. “It can easily be put on the back of a truck and transported to Chemtrans’ various locations. We can send it to a branch and it might take three weeks in some cases, or even up to eight weeks, to get through the entire branch. As soon as we finish at a branch, we pick it up and move it to the next one. The simulator was in very high use until COVID, but as soon as restrictions ease, we will be straight back into the simulator training,” says Dale.
The driver training simulator is completely self-sufficient, featuring its own generator, air compressor, pumping equipment, control panel and several holding tanks. It allows drivers to complete deliveries in the same fashion as they would during a normal shift. Chemtrans training staff have developed various training scenarios which range from straight forward deliveries to complex situations with problems that need to be solved. The simulator can also be used to demonstrate an incident, so that drivers learn how best to respond if faced with a similar scenario in the real world.
“Drivers can sometimes be blasé when it comes to training, but they get a lot of benefit from the simulator, and the feedback from drivers is excellent. They see it as a real game changer for them,” adds Dale.
With the simulator clearly proving its worth for the business, Chemtrans now hopes to build another two identical, transportable units, in the near future.