Environmental Protection

Delivering Safety

A pre-trip inspection is required by law and the most positive investment in safety

Motor carriers must remain focused while transporting whatever they carry, especially if the cargo is hazardous materials.

A veritable alphabet soup of regulatory compliance agencies -- DOT, FMSA, TSA, OSHA, EPA, DHS -- exercise control over the estimated 73,000 registered carriers of hazardous materials in the United States. The most successful of these commercial carriers thrive in this fast-paced, unforgiving environment by viewing occupational health and safety as the key to a profitable business.

The best motor carriers understand that a company culture that enthusiastically supports safe practices across the full spectrum of activities, from fleet maintenance and shop safety to driver preparation and hazardous materials training, will prosper. Likewise, ill-prepared drivers in poorly maintained vehicles engaged in the potentially lethal transport of hazardous materials combine to create a recipe for disaster.

This article will look at tough issues facing motor carriers and shippers, such as ensuring driver and vehicle security, dealing with issues of terrorism on the road, committing to the responsible care of chemicals in transport, and supporting a culture of safety. It may be best to start with one of the fundamentals: driver hiring and training.

Check and Check Again
Ask someone outside the business to identify the most important aspect of transportation safety, and he or she may point to the latest advancements in trucks, trailers, and GPS technology. Ask a motor carrier’s safety director the same question, and the answer will be people. The latest in equipment and facilities will mean nothing if the employees do not have the right attitude about health and safety.

When a company actively supports safety in the workplace, communicating it from top management downward, the spirit is contagious. It’s in an environment like this where a driver with 20 years of experience and two million miles of accident-free driving will still be willing to learn tips from a young but skilled defensive driving instructor.

Shippers of hazardous materials -- in fact, shippers in general -- should always ask their carriers how they screen and train their drivers. If this crucial first step is undertaken correctly, it will pay off in years to come with peace of mind about the dependability of the carrier. Say a driver applies for work, claiming he has a clear accident record; on the surface, he may appear to be a good bet. Some companies might check his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), give him a drug test, make a copy of his medical card, plunk him in front of a driving training video, and then hand him the truck keys, with more training and background checking scheduled in 90 days. This approach meets all basic regulations.

More discerning companies might bring the promising recruit on board, but before handing over the truck keys will first conduct a much more thorough screening process, which would include:

• Obtaining a full motor vehicle record of all traffic infractions

• Checking for the validity of the CDL, Social Security number, and Hazardous Materials Endorsement

• Checking with previous employers

• Running a criminal record check

• Conducting a road test

A motor carrier that is determined to get the right person for the job begins with the end in mind, which is putting a capable, well-trained, security-conscious individual behind the wheel. Not only is a systematic hiring process essential, so, too, is driver training. If a company can recruit an experienced driver with a good record, many carriers leave it at that and consider the driver ready for the road. Others take the extra step of training these drivers to their own standards in everything from defensive driving techniques to occupational health and emergency spill response.

Even something as straightforward as the pre-trip inspection, when the driver ensures the safe operating condition of the vehicle, should not be left to chance. Not only is equipment inspection the law, but it also is essential to protecting the driver, the vehicle, and its contents. Pre-trip inspections could be considered among the most positive investments in safety and are the most important steps a driver can take to ensure safety on the road before the truck even leaves the lot.

In the course of a day, drivers typically access dozens of loading docks where forklifts and powered pallet jacks are being operated. The company that invests the time and money to properly certify drivers to use this powered industrial equipment is arming its drivers with the knowledge to avoid injury from others who are running this equipment.

Even for carriers that do not specialize in the safe handling of chemicals, chemicals are everywhere. Forklifts are propane powered, pallet jacks run on batteries full of acid, and professional drivers work in an environment surrounded by trucks that use diesel fuel, motor oil, and antifreeze -- all of which carry potential hazards to the employee.

Structuring safety awareness programs around OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard is one way good carriers ensure drivers are properly educated and equipped to recognize potential occupational hazards.

New Safety Concerns
Before the attacks of 9/11, the biggest concern of commercial carriers was protecting the health and safety of their employees and the public while delivering the shipments in a timely manner. But after that momentous day, a new concern about terrorism on the road loomed for carriers. Now, the transport of hazmats -- always a potentially dangerous undertaking -- can be even more perilous. That tanker of flammables or compressed gases could be viewed as a weapon of mass destruction. In addition, that recently hired driver could have very malicious intentions as he carries into a tunnel eight drums of highly flammable methyl ethyl ketone (used in paints and coatings).

What to do? First, very thorough screening of not only drivers, but also dispatchers and any other internal employee with knowledge of shipments and schedules is now more important than ever. Second, complete familiarity with new regulations for the transport of hazmats over bridges, in tunnels, and into dense metropolitan areas is absolutely essential. Third, transport vehicles -- especially ones carrying hazmats -- should be equipped with satellite tracking and two-way communication so the carrier and shipper can pinpoint their exact location at any given moment. Fourth, having security-conscious drivers who know what procedures to use when delivering and transferring freight, how to protect their freight at all times, and how to preserve their own personal safety should be at the top of the list of every shipper. Finally, reputable motor carriers should require their drivers to be familiar with national safety and security protocols for the roadway sector.

A safety management system is built on the concept of continuous improvement and is organized through a set of well-defined programs, policies, and procedures to enhance safety. While no organization runs perfectly, an organization with a good safety management system is one that is committed to a culture of safety.

This article originally appeared in Occupational Health & Safety magazine's September 2008 issue.

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