At this year’s Sleep Apnea and Trucking Conference, held on May 11-12 in Baltimore, Don Osterberg, vice president of safety and driver training for Green Bay, Wisconsin-based trucking company Schneider National, was presented with the first-ever Distinguished Safety Leadership award, which was created by the Truck Safety Coalition. Osterberg’s receipt of the award was an unexpected moment for two reasons, namely because of his company’s history of involvement in fatal trucking crashes, and also because of who presented Osterberg with the award itself: the daughter that William Badger was on his way to meet when he was killed in a crash involving one of Osterberg’s semi-trucks.
Dawn King lost her father when his car collided with a semi-truck owned and operated by Schneider National just two days before Christmas, 2004. The truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into Badger’s vehicle as he was en route to pick up his daughter from the airport. Badger’s marked the ninth fatal truck-car wreck that involved Schneider National in 2004. Don Osterberg had just joined the company earlier in the year. When he met with Badger’s family soon after the crash, they had one request for him: to learn as much as he could about what caused the incident so that he could prevent what happened to William Badger from happening to anyone else. Osterberg promised he would do anything in his power to make changes within his company, and he made good on his promise. It was his hard work and dedication to improving the safety of his company and his drivers that resulted in the Truck Safety Coalition deciding that Osterberg should receive the award.
Truck Safety Coalition member Jeff Burns delivered a speech commending Osterberg’s success in implementing changes within Schneider National that have drastically reduced the number of accidents and fatalities the company is involved in. Most pointedly, Burns pointed out that in contrast to the nine fatal accidents in 2004 that Schneider was involved in, 2009 saw no fatal accidents. Burns, an attorney in Kansas City and also a member of several other trucking safety associations, noted that Osterberg’s tenure saw the introduction of Electronic Onboard Recorders and speed governors into Schneider’s fleet, as well as the screening of all drivers for sleep apnea. Offering statistics, Burns said that the safety initiatives at Schneider reduced preventable crashes by 30%, reduced fatigue as a crash factor by 27%, and lowered its fatal crash rate by 59%.
Addressing the economics of the safety improvements, Burns told the audience, “these safety initiatives saved the company money as well, providing hard, solid proof that safety doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice productivity.” He said that the company had lowered its insurance premiums, its workers compensation costs and its fuel costs as a result of the measures.
In accepting his award, Osterberg was proud that his efforts had undoubtedly saved lives, and said there was more to be done. “The safety issues in this industry, while profound, can be solved. We just have to roll up our sleeves and set ourselves to work on them.”
Don Osterberg sets an outstanding example to all motor carriers that safety objectives can be achieved and can benefit both the industry as well as all motorists who share the roads of this country. Let’s hope that the powers-that-be in charge of safety at the other major carriers take notice and make the changes needed to save lives.