Tank truck drivers encounter plenty of hazards in their effort to safely deliver gasoline and other refined fuels to service stations. In fact, the National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) believes it may be the toughest job faced by a driver in the tank truck industry.
To address gasoline-delivery challenges, Bulk Transporter and NTTC teamed up on a webinar, “Making Safe Deliveries to Service Stations: Critical Steps to Help Drivers Avoid the Perils of Petroleum Hauling,” featuring three industry veterans whose companies account for nearly three million individual truck loads every year: Jim Anderson, vice-president of safety for Florida Rock and Tank Lines; Bob Heinisch, vice-president of safety and security for Eagle Transport Group; and Becky Perlaky, executive vice-president of safety and security for The Kenan Advantage Group.
Anderson said many people think of a tank truck as just one tank, but it's usually four to five compartments that allow carriers to carry multiple grades of product.
“That gives our drivers a great complexity of decisions that have to be made to ensure putting the right product in the right tanks,” he said.
Three common ways to avoid mixing:
- Tank-configuration solutions.
Most carriers have provided drivers with some sort of tank-configuration document or have added tank configuration to their technology. This assists the drivers by allowing them to document their loading configuration for retrieval at the delivery site.
“We try to make sure the driver gets into the habit of using the same compartment for the same type of product,” Perlaky said. “We refer to ‘walking the line.’ Once connections are made, go back to the paperwork and do a check to confirm you have connected to the correct compartment and have located the proper fill before opening the valve.”
Heinisch: “We train our drivers to have a routine and number of steps. If anything distracts you, start again at Point 1 and go to the end. If a step is forgotten, it may lead to some type of error.”
- Product ID markers.
Many carriers have installed product ID markers on their delivery heads to assist drivers with this issue.
- Distillate markers.
Dust cap tags and/or orange straps, orange or green cones may also be used to mark the appropriate fill once arriving on-site.
Anderson: “We use a green cone to identify the diesel drop to every stop.”
Perlaky: “We also have a Velcro strap. We encourage drivers to take a simple orange Velcro strap and place it on the distillate fitting at the time of loading as an extra caution. We also require drivers to locate all fills so they don't accidently drop into the wrong tank. We describe our driving team as having to wear various hats: They have to be a safe vehicle operator and handle hazardous materials, but also have to be an explorer and locate fills. And be a mathematician once they get there.”
Heinisch: “At Eagle, we call our drivers ‘professional petroleum-relocation specialists.’ Driving is incidental to what we do. You have to put effort and brainpower into it.”
Obstacles in the way
Many delivery sites don't seem to be designed with large tractor-trailer rigs in mind, Heinisch said. Site footprints are very small. Many obstacles are built into the site design (vacuums, pay phones, fuel-dispensing pumps, tire pumps, dumpster pads, etc, in close proximity to the delivery pad). Traffic patterns, entrances and exits are designed for passenger vehicles and customer convenience, so they often do not provide adequate space for 60-foot-plus trucks.
“As we take on new business, we try to go out and do an immediate advance site assessment and do a journey plan so we can provide documentation to the driver in advance,” Perlaky said. “He'll have directions not only to the station, but how to properly enter and exit. At some locations, we have to make sure we don't block the view of the cashier. There are so many obstacles: firewood or mulch or other individuals making food and beverage deliveries.”
Anderson added: “Generally, we have a tight delivery window, but in some cases, we have the flexibility to shift the time of day. What is the busiest time at that particular station? If you have that flexibility to dispatch a load either before or after the busiest time, it will be less crowded with vehicles and pedestrians, making it a safer site for the driver.
“Our driver has to pull into small driveways that damage tires and then try to position the truck while everyone's running in to get that last cup of coffee before dropping off the kids at school. It's amazing they don't see that 60-foot tank and truck. It creates a situation where our drivers become frustrated. But we've got to remember those customers that are causing distractions and making our drivers' jobs difficult are the customers of our customers.”
Heinisch said drivers should be alert and instructed not to deliver if there is a threat to the load or driver, and to call dispatch immediately.
They should assess risks upon arrival: Verify the vehicle is positioned properly and trailer brakes are set before exiting the vehicle; lock the doors and take the keys; double-check the address and product to be delivered; create a safe work zone by using cones and/or straps.
They should immediately report: lost or stolen loading cards or equipment, along with suspicious characters, questions, or comments.
“Assess, analyze, and act,” Anderson said. “It's just a lot of good common sense to get drivers to think about performing these observations and looking around and having a comfort level as they begin the work of unloading the truck. It's a dynamic environment. They must stop, reassess, and, if it's not safe to continue, shut everything down and call us. Our drivers are not paid by the hour. They're paid by the trip, which is on mileage. Having said that, time is money for these guys. We pay them for any time they are delayed due to safety or security issues from the time they call us. They will be compensated for their time, so that does not become a barrier to getting communication from the driver when we have these types of issues.”
Perlaky: “Be aware at all times, so you can stop and eliminate risks and take appropriate action. Drivers must not to be sitting there on a stool. They are to be monitoring the vehicle at all times.”
Safe work zone
Heavily patronized sites, combined with tight quarters, often place drivers and equipment in much too close proximity to the patrons.
Heinisch said that to create a safe work zone, carriers provide drivers with devices designed to provide separation of their work space from pedestrians and other vehicles.
“Cones have been our main tool to provide an identified work zone where drivers are going to connect hoses to the tank,” Anderson said. “Through the years, we had a number of incidents where motorists would drive right over hoses. You can imagine the hazard involved. We're implementing a strapping system that provides horizontal definition to the work area. We have not experienced any incidents when this type of system has been deployed. We've had success and are continuing to work toward a total retrofit of our fleet.”
Heinisch said accurate tank identification is an essential key in preventing spills and ensuring contaminations do not occur. Customer information/route sheets include tank sizes and tank calibration charts. Drivers stick-gauge tanks and check their readings against tank calibration charts for available capacity. Tanks customarily are not allowed to be filled beyond 90% of their capacity.
“Paperwork is just as important as the delivery,” he said.
Eagle has a program called “Match Two or Call.” A decal says, “If you cannot match two from each column to verify the right product to the right customer tank, call your dispatcher for guidance.” The first column includes: driver report, bill of lading, pickup order or tank configuration worksheet, and distillate loading procedure. The second column includes: customer information sheet, product ID bands, product ID tags, painted, stenciled product ID name, and color codes.
Florida Rock developed a STOP-THINK-ACT decal with bullet points listing key steps: always stay focused; before loading, verify compartment is empty; record product type and gallons on FRTL freight bill; set product markers; verify delivery location; verify tank identification; verify capacity, never exceed 90%; check paperwork to see if correct compartment hooked up to tank; trace hose from compartment to tank; stand by valves in case of emergency; and bucket drain each compartment before leaving.
“It doesn't require the driver to open a training manual or pull a card out of his shirt pocket,” Anderson said. “I know this provides drivers an immediate visual resource to help keep them on track.”
To identify the correct fill inlet, Heinisch said aids include: information/route sheets; product ID bands; ID tags; stenciling; and color-coding. Many carriers have created programs to assist drivers in identifying the correct underground storage tank.
He said most companies have policies forbidding drivers from delivering to tanks unless they have conclusive proof of the tank's identity.
Spills probably pose the most expensive delivery risk, according to Heinisch. “So it's very important that drivers make sure the tank they are about to deliver in will hold the product they're delivering.”
Tips: locate all fills by sticking all tanks, doing the math, allowing an outage, double-checking product tags and “walking the hose” before opening valves, recording ending stick, and stowing all equipment.
The 90% Rule applies: If calibration charts indicate the entire compartment cannot be delivered without causing the tank to exceed 90% of its maximum capacity, do not unload any part of the compartment, and call dispatch for help and further instructions.
Drivers should briefly examine the delivery location and the slope of the land in the event a problem occurs. They should look for drains and ditches, be prepared to stop the flow of product if possible, and use cones or other objects to block the drive from traffic and eliminate the risk of a fire.
“Anytime I hear, ‘Don't worry about it,’ my heart stops,” Perlaky said. “We have a policy that someone else goes to provide a hands-on and eyeball for what is truly happening at that station and how serious it is.”
Added Heinisch, “‘Don't worry about it, it's only three gallons’ usually means 30 gallons.”
He said the addition of ethanol to the product stream has greatly increased the urgency of preventing water contamination.
“Ethanol is water-miscible and will ‘phase separate’ if as little as 5% of a tank's capacity is water,” he said. “This phase separation can cause interruptions in our customer business, cause damage to their equipment, cause damage to a patron's vehicle and result in costly claims for the carrier.
“To prevent water contamination, carriers require drivers to use water-detecting paste when stick-gauging tanks, before and after delivery to each tank. Drivers are instructed to contact their managers/dispatchers if any water is found. Customers are contacted and loads are diverted to other locations until the water and/or contaminated fuel can be removed from the tank.”
There are many different types of water-finding paste, he said. Some are specific for the type of fuel (diesel, conventional, reformulated, ethanol). If the correct paste is not used, false readings are possible.