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Nina Williams urges drivers at Metro Ready Mix to also make good choices when they're not behind the wheel.

Nina Williams is a woman with a mission. In her role as coordinator of driver development at Nashville-based Metro Ready Mix, she believes training is more than just encouraging drivers to be safe on the road and jobsites. Williams coaches her students to make better choices in their lives, on and off the clock.

She has a unique seat from which to view the challenges truck drivers face. She is one of only three people who monitor driver skills with a driver simulator. In the last 18 months, she has played a key role in Metro Ready Mix's innovative attempt to adopt a best practice approach to driver improvement. (See page 34.)

Williams traveled a unique path to the concrete industry. She had been a correctional officer and rose through the ranks to assistant warden. Williams left the world of locks and gates for driver training. She became the training coordinator for a national transit company which provided interstate transportation for prisons.

Williams has discovered many similarities between these two industries. Both groups of drivers operate in high-stress situations, and they work long hours, with irregular starting and ending times. They often suffer from fatigue during their shifts. “And when fatigued, great drivers can make poor judgments,” says Williams.

She has adopted a holistic approach to combating driver fatigue. As simulator operator, Williams has seen the effects poor habits have on performance. She stresses three key options. “I focus on what drivers eat, how they sleep, and how they take care of themselves when they're sick,” says Williams.

Sleep right, eat right

In her training sessions, Williams reminds drivers how these elements affect performance. “Traditionally, our drivers with poor sleeping habits rev themselves up with caffeine in the morning, then reward their morning successes with a heavy lunch of red meat and trans fats,” she explains. These are unwise choices.

Williams encourages drivers to include these life options in a pre-trip checklist that begins long before starting time. She asks them to monitor their sleeping patterns to be sure they get enough rest. She suggests they eat fruits and nuts, especially at lunch.

Williams reminds her drivers that incidents often occur when a driver is in poor physical condition. She urges them to exercise, even if this amounts to a simple 10-minute walk around the block.

And she urges drivers who take medication to read the drug manufacturers' directions. “It sounds like a simple request, but when a driver works a random shift, it can be hard to plan to eat a meal at the time scheduled to take a pill,” she says.

“Williams has brought an interesting perspective to our driver training,” said Mike Rhea, Metro's safety director. He credits her with making the producer aware of the need to not only provide a safe and healthy environment for employees, but in urging employees to pay more attention to their health.

Williams isn't alone in the quest. Willie McGee, a 30-year-plus driver who is Metro's in-field driver coordinator, complements the simulator training program and reinforces William's efforts.

Her life-improvement instructions have had another effect. Rhea has been talking to the vending machine contractor about supplying more healthy food and drinks.

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