SPEAKERS took on a broad range of topics with serious safety implications during the National Tank Truck Carriers Tank Truck Safety & Security Council Annual Meeting June 14-16 in St Petersburg, Florida. Topics included the driver shortage, job satisfaction, crash and claims management, and human trafficking.

In his presentation entitled “The Burn of the Churn,” Paul Baute, vice-president of fleet safety risk consulting for Marsh Risk Consulting, looked at the many factors contributing to the growing driver shortage. He reviewed strategies for addressing the issues.

At its core, the driver shortage is a people issue. “Each organization has a supporting cast of people who determine whether a driver will stay or leave,” Baute said. “This supporting cast includes maintenance technicians, dispatchers and recruiters, accounting personnel, the sales force, and the people who keep the computer technology running.”

Tenure is one of the best measures of driver satisfaction at a trucking company. A Gallup survey has shown that 86% of long-tenured drivers (five years or longer at the same company) were either satisfied (43%) or somewhat satisfied (43%). The longer the tenure, the more satisfied the drivers were.

Satisfaction was based on a number of personnel factors: Company support when on the road (52%), friendliness of managers (52%), company expectations about schedules (46%), fairness of managers (44%), company rules about driving (42%), genuine sign of caring by managers (42%), how dispatcher assigns work (41%), recognition when drivers do a good job (35%), and company training program (34%).

Other factors influencing driver satisfaction: Amount of general non-driving work required to perform (37%), friendliness of customers (35%), hours of service monitoring (26%), amount of time waiting at customer locations (23%), good pay (33%), steady work (24%), good equipment (18%), home time (18%), good benefits (15%), and good company attitude/friendly (13%).

Driver tenure

Baute stressed driver tenure and longevity throughout his presentation. He emphasized that turnover is expensive. Most tank truck carriers have reasonably good driver retention, but turnover still occurs.

“In the truckload sector, average driver turnover was 88% for the truckload sector in 2014,” he said. “The American Trucking Associations is claiming that the trucking industry will need close to 40,000 new drivers within the next year, and we are on pace to needing close to 175,000 additional drivers by the year 2024.

“This epidemic reaches far beyond the commercial vehicle fleets. We are experiencing driver shortages in other transportation related segments such as motor coach, transit, taxi, food and beverage distribution, package delivery, courier, retail, and many others.

“I was reading an article recently which described the challenge a community is experiencing getting children to and from school in a timely manner as a result of the shortage of skilled school bus operators.”

Driver pool

So where has the driver pool gone? The retiring workforce, with the ever-rising average age of the typical driver, is accounting for the large majority of the drivers exiting the market. At the same time, fleets say most of the applicants they have interviewed over the past year were simply not qualified or did not meet current standards.

Increasingly, new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations are running off potentially good safe drivers. Problems encountered with medical situations, such as requirements for sleep apnea tests or “medical guidelines” that are not regulations, just suggestions, will cause some drivers to leave the industry.

Reducing turnover has a definite safety impact for fleets. “Our own research at Marsh has helped us identify that over 55% of the collisions our clients experience involve vehicle operators who have been employed by their company for less than one year.” Baute said. “We have also noticed a direct correlation between the years when the economy was flourishing and the years we experienced the largest number of claims, which happen to be the years when these company’s driver turnover rates were at their peak.”

Fleets need to develop a comprehensive strategy to improve driver retention, and it starts at the point of hire. Too often drivers leave the company during orientation. This is usually due to a misunderstanding or false expectation that was set. Bob Costello, chief economist for the American Trucking Associations, reported in an article in DC Velocity on April 27, 2016 that if truck fleets could retain newly hired drivers for 90 days that driver turnover could be reduced by nearly 50%.

Once a driver is on board, steps should an employer take to ensure that his or her performance meets all safety standards and that the driver feels valued by the company. These new drivers need to be thoroughly prepared for success.

Driver perspective

Offering his perspective on driver retention and safety issues, Darryl Nowell, NTTC’s Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year and a driver for Eagle Transport Corp, said that ATA’s National Truck Driver Appreciation Week should more than just a week. It needs to be an everyday activity.

In addition, drivers want terminal personnel to help ensure that equipment is 100% operational. Dispatchers need to keep drivers busy while staying within the hours of service.

He said electronic driver logs are a great system that reduces driver paperwork. He added that he has no problem with truck-mounted cameras that face forward, but he believes cameras covering the cab interior will result in driver distrust.

Accident impact

Even the best driver team can’t always prevent an accident, and some of those accidents can have a significant impact on the fleet. Steven Garrish, CDS senior vice-president of business development/New Ventures, SleepSafe Drivers, discussed steps that should be taken to prepare for the worst.

“Preparing for a serious incident or accident is part of a good safety program,” he said. “Actively caring and investing in safety not only helps to mitigate risk, it also defines a company’s character.

“You need to know how to handle the media and have plans in place to work with family, friends, and co-workers. As part of the event reconstruction, you will need to review hiring procedures, training, vehicle maintenance records, hours of service records, organization policies/practices, interviews with involved individuals, and the process of the on-site investigation.

“Later, you will move into the case building process, which includes prepping for witness interviews, depositions, and meetings on strategy. You also need to plan for the long-term impact of a major event on your organization.”

Fleet managers need a good understanding of the regulations that impact fleet operations, Garrish said. Written policies and procedures need to be kept up to date and should be readily accessible. Expectations and consequences of non-compliance should be clearly stated.

When it comes to fleet safety, it is more than just a department, person, or stated commitment. It is a demonstrated action from leadership. Everyone in the company owns safety, and all employees should be empowered to intervene when safety issues are identified.

Garrish said he believes fatigue may be a root cause for many fleet safety issues, including accidents, injuries, absenteeism, poor well-being, productivity, and turnover. He encouraged fleet managers to become more involved in setting up fatigue management programs.

Claims management

Claims are another part of the accident and incident management process that must be addressed. John Driessen, associate general counsel for Subrogation Division Inc, discussed the claims issue in his presentation “Claims Management: Preserving your loss of use claim from accident scene to settlement.”

Claims management needs to start well before an incident occurs, according to Driessen. “Realize that every claim is different, and you need a game plan, not a recipe,” he said. “Checklists are helpful, but you must be prepared to justify what items were checks and why. In developing your plan, trust your expertise. Be flexible and have the ability to adapt your knowledge to new situations.”

From a litigation management perspective, key factors are response time, risk and adjustment (exposure), legal defense, preserving the evidence, deciding whether to hire investigative services, and recovery from at-fault parties. What policies, procedures, training, and monitoring should be in place.

“Your job in this process may vary based on your company’s role,” Driessen said. “Is your company the exposed party or the one making a claim? Either way, you have a duty to your driver, your profession, and your company. You may not want to go to court, but you need to show that you are ready and prepared.

“What types of incidents require someone from your company on the scene, and what types of incidents require an outside investigative service? What types of documents are available or are needed? That includes photographs? What witness information is available?”

Preserving evidence

Preservation of evidence is critical, and chain of custody must be verified. Evidence must be authenticated based on who, what, when, where, how. There must be a secure place to store evidence.

While it may natural to want to minimize exposure, it may not be ethical or legal. When, how, and if you share information can be strategic, but there are limits.

“All of this is going to come out during legal discovery,” Driessen said. “Be smart, be honest, avoid spoliation (the intentional, reckless, or negligent withholding, hiding, altering, fabricating, or destroying of evidence relevant to a legal proceeding).”

Recovery from an at-fault party is one of the biggest problems in the trucking industry. Many carriers (and their insurance companies) fail to adequately recover losses from an accident in which the company’s truck and driver were not at fault.

“Claims settlement will always remain an adversarial process,” Driessen said. “When you suffer a loss in an accident, who pays for it? You don’t have to sue for damages and may not want to recover on your subrogation claims. That should be a conscious decision, though.

“In addition, lost profits are not the only economic losses. For instance, if you lose a limb in an accident, do you have to prove lost potential in order to recover loss of use? Do you have to prove that you didn’t have another limb to use while your missing limb was being replaced? Do you have to get a prosthetic before you can determine the amount of downtime you had?

“Those questions may sound stupid, but that is the exact same logic the adverse party might use to try to deny your loss of use due to equipment damage. When your power unit or trailer are pulled out of service for repairs due to the negligence of another, you are deprived of the right to use that particular property, and you have real and measurable damages.”

In her presentation “Combating human trafficking through the trucking industry,” Kendis Paris said that human trafficking is nothing but modern day slavery, and poses security risks for the trucking industry. She is executive director and co-founder of Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT).

There are 21 million victims of human trafficking globally, according to the International Labor Organization. Human trafficking has grown into a $150 billion industry, and it happens in all 50 of the United States and the District of Columbia. Some of the victims have been moved from one location to another by commercial trucks.

Thousands of children are at risk of being prostituted in the United States each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Victims reportedly may be forced to have sex up to 20 times a day.

Paris pleaded for more help from the trucking industry to fight the human trafficking threat. “Truck drivers are the eyes and ears out on the road,” she said. “They can be trained to be vigilant an observant when they intersect with victims.”

Human trafficking victims can be spotted at truck stops and truck parking lots, rest areas, along city streets, bus terminals, fuel stations, places of business, and hotels/motels.

Paris said TAT seeks to educate, equip, empower, and mobilize members of the trucking industry to combat human trafficking as part of their regular jobs. The group also is partnering with law enforcement to facilitate the investigation of human trafficking.

“We want to marshal all of the available resources to combat this crime, she said. “We are raising awareness and we are having success. Truckers have made more than 1,371 calls to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline (888-373-7888) and we have identified 425 likely human trafficking cases involving 744 trafficking victims, including 249 minors.”

Reg report

During his wrap-up on federal regulatory action affecting tank truck industry safety programs,” Boyd Stephenson, NTTC’s new senior vice-president, said the clock is ticking on any meaningful activity through the rest of the year. Everyone is focused on the upcoming Presidential election.

He said he believes the tank truck sector will get the hours-of-service fix it needs. He believes the 34-hour restart provision will be reinstated.

Turning to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposal to add a safety fitness determination to the CSA program, Stephenson said Congress probably will kill it. Even if that doesn’t happen a final rule seems years away.

It seems actions on creating a uniform background check for hazardous materials endorsements and the Transportation Worker ID Credential may have become more likely. “The Transportation Security Administration is listening to us, and we’re starting to see movement,” he said.   ♦

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