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Safety and Compliance: Knowledge Gaps

by John Oldfield

It's hard to work with soft rules. Harder still to work with rules you've never even heard of. For as much as this industry boasts that it can deliver anything but a baby on time and intact, it's doing a terrible job of delivering information to drivers. You guys have really been left out of the information loop.

I conduct regular safety meetings for all of my insured fleets. At these get-togethers, drivers repeatedly ask me the most basic of questions. This tells me that there's a problem: you have questions, but it seems nobody has the answers. The entire industry has a problem if its front-line risk managers, the drivers, aren't getting the information they need to perform their jobs properly.

Part of the problem lies with an industry that views training as an expense rather than a cost-control mechanism. Another part of the problem, frankly, lies with poorly trained safety supervisors. Some of these people lack the inspiration to deliver interesting and compelling training programs, while others are simply poor teachers. But a large part of the problem lies in the scope and complexity of the regulations drivers are expected to understand and comply with. And, of course, there's also the rate of change. Few industries match ours in terms of the rate and depth of the changes we're seeing today.

Just look at the mess we're in now with brake adjustment. Most drivers know that as of September 1st, Ontario requires drivers to hold a brake-adjustment training certificate before being allowed to adjust their own brakes. Meanwhile, British Columbia requires drivers to inspect and adjust their brakes before descending a large grade - no certificate required. Yet Ontario only recently decided to recognize the fact that B.C. drivers get the training, and the experience, at home. Ontario won't even recognize a U.S. Commercial Driver's License as establishing competency to adjust brakes. God only knows where we stand in Saskatchewan or Rhode Island.

The situation in Canada is vastly more complicated than it is in the lower 48. They have a handy little guide book, which every driver is required to carry around, called The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, title 49. This deals with all the federal regulations that apply to all commercial drivers, anywhere in the U.S. No equivalent document exists anywhere in Canada, largely because we don't have a national regulatory framework. I suspect that even if the most diligent driver were to get his hands on each provincial transport legislation, and all the amendments, he'd be overweight on his steer axle even before he put a stick of freight on the truck.

Intimate familiarity with every paragraph of each provincial transportation act may not be necessary, but there are many instances where jurisdictional interpretations of the regulations vary. And some of those variations can cost you a bundle. I sit in front of a computer all day long. I have access to all the latest information via the Internet and a variety of other sources, and I still can't keep pace with everything that's going on. How can we expect you to stay on top of things with everything else you've got on your plate?

Many of you, through no fault of your own, don't have access to even very basic information. Dispatch sends you out to load a marine container onto a dropdeck. Inside the container sits a machine weighing 25,000 lb. How many chains or straps do you need? And how do you properly secure the container?

Non-compliance is getting terribly expensive, and ignorance of the law is no longer an acceptable excuse. Don't worry if you don't know how many chains you need, the important question is: do you know where to go to find out?

The sad fact is that many drivers are forced to rely on the Dummy's Guide to Truck Driving, otherwise known as the CB radio. It's often a case of the blind leading the blind. There's also the awkward situation of having to confront dispatch with a question that reveals that you really don't know all there is to know about the job. I have a lot of drivers ask me questions in private that they wouldn't ask in a room full of other drivers.

Get over it ladies and gentlemen, put your pride aside and ask the questions. I truly believe that the best professional driver on the road today is the one who believes there's no such thing as a stupid question.

Thousands of new drivers enter this industry every year but thousands more leave, largely because they haven't been properly trained. They make mistakes, get into trouble, are fined or penalized, and occasionally fired. Others just give up and leave the industry altogether. All this grief and aggravation for the want of a little more information.

Most of the answers are out there, but the difficulty of finding them often outweighs the advantage of knowing the answer. See the sidebar story for some Internet sources worth exploring. You'll learn something, but chances are you'll come away with more questions. That's all part of finding out what you don't know.

Surfing for Clues
The Internet can be a marvelous source of information; it can also be a colossal waste of time. The following Web sites contain some useful information. If a provincial site isn't listed here, that's because in our view it's not worth the trouble.

Provincial Departments of Transportation

Trucking Associations
These sites are useful if only for their links. Most contain some information about regulatory changes and association activity but, again, not a lot of hard information.

Government Agencies
If you've got time on your hands, these sites do contain useful concrete information, but the challenge is finding it. The CCMTA Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators site listed below contains very specific information regarding the upcoming North American standardized load securement proposal. It's huge and very detailed. This should be required reading.

John Oldfield is a transportation insurance specialist with Dalton, Timmis, Jennings Inc. Insurance Brokers, Hamilton, Ont. He can be reached at 888-385-8466.

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