Regulations, controversial issues keep trucking companies on point
Jun 1, 2009 12:00 PM
Regulations are a daily part of tank truck carrier operations, so staying on point where federal data is concerned is essential, according to information presented at the National Tank Truck Carriers Safety Council meeting April 1-2 in Savannah, Georgia.
Ron Ashby of Ashby Transportation Consultants LLC and James Simmons of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), presented an update on FMCSA carrier profile data. Dan Furth of the NTTC staff addressed “card check” legislation now being considered in Congress that would change the way labor unions are organized at companies.
On the subject of labor unions, John Harris presented a program supported by the Teamsters, among others, that would replace Highway Watch, a nation-wide security program that used driver skills and “road smarts” to help protect the transportation sector. Highway Watch was originally administered by the American Trucking Associations (ATA), but was canceled in what some say was a political coup.
Harris discussed the First Observer program that has the support of the Teamsters, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, and others. He said the program's administrator originally was involved in the Highway Watch program. The program will have a call center for drivers and others to report suspicious activity.
Some trucking companies are opposed to the program because they argue the program would contain drivers names and contact information that could be accessible to the Teamsters and others. However, Harris said the data base would be kept confidential.
Ashby directed his remarks to the federal data FMCSA collects on carrier operations. “It's very important to keep this information up to date,” Ashby said. “If business is booming you may want to update your profile once a year.”
FMCSA maintains a carrier operations “snapshot” in its SAFER program, an accessible electronic record of a company's identification, size, commodity information, and safety record, including the safety rating (if any), a roadside out-of-service inspection summary, and crash information.
Also available from FMCSA is SafeStat data provided by the agency's office of Analysis and Information Online. SafeStat (short for Motor Carrier Safety Status Measurement System) is an automated, data driven analysis system designed by FMCSA. SafeStat combines current and historical carrier-based safety performance information to measure the relative (peer-to-peer) safety fitness of interstate commercial motor carriers and intrastate commercial motor carriers that transport hazardous materials, according to information posted on the FMCSA Web site.
The information includes federal and state data on crashes, roadside inspections, on-site compliance review results, and enforcement history. SafeStat enables FMCSA to quantify and monitor the safety status of individual motor carriers on a monthly basis and thereby focus enforcement resources on carriers posing the greatest potential safety risk. States are required to provide standard, basic information about large truck and bus crashes to FMCSA within 90 days of the crash event, and the results of roadside inspections within 21 days of inspection. However, the completeness, timeliness and accuracy of crash data — and to a lesser extent roadside inspection data — vary from state-to-state.
As a result, SafeStat's ability to accurately and objectively assess the safety fitness of individual motor carriers may be inconsistent and not conclusive without additional analysis, the FMCSA information states.
It is this data that Ashby and Simmons addressed, reminding carriers to be sure their data is correct — and if not to contact FMCSA to make corrections. Ashby advised securing copies of roadside inspection reports, particularly when the results are positive in order to be sure the reports are in the system. Always be sure that the data is not mistakenly posted about another carrier.
He also cautioned carriers to keep their history of insurance and license data updated.
Some of the information is available to the public, while some is not. Ashby noted that accident numbers can be accessed, but names of drivers are not available.
He also pointed out that in addition to public access to the records, a growing number of plaintiff attorneys are using the data in lawsuits against carriers.
Simmons noted that changes are occurring at FMCSA that will affect carriers. The Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 is a high priority agency initiative designed with, among other changes, two new safety measurement systems, one for carriers and another for drivers.
CSA 2010 will introduce a broader array of progressive interventions with the goal of changing behavior and changing it early. As a result, more carriers will be receiving attention from FMCSA and state partners about their potential safety problems.
He noted another change that addresses crash preventability, which was not considered before. It now will be evaluated by an FMCSA division administrator with the agency's goal to have a response to the carrier in five business days. FMCSA plans to identify high-risk carriers and drivers more specifically than previously.
Simmons noted that in 2007 the rate of fatalities occurring in accidents involving trucks hauling hazardous materials fell 13.1 percent from the year before. But, he added, when an accident does occur with hazmat products, the outcome can be catastrophic.
FMCSA also will be focusing on hazmat shippers and reviewing their records for high violation frequency, complaints, and number of incidents. This data eventually may be made available to carriers, Simmons said.
Simmons also discussed security issues, reminding carriers to document existing and proposed routes, assess and characterize existing and proposed routes, and analyze current route regulations to cross-border.
Turning to regulations under consideration, he directed attention to the Sanitary Transportation Food Act that calls for stricter foodgrade procedures. The Department of Agriculture, Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Drug Administration are all involved in the action.
He advised carriers to keep a close watch on the proceedings because, if approved, they are likely to affect cleaning and repair facilities, as well as carriers. On the drawing board are regulations for seals and product temperature and tank cleaning documentation.
Another movement carriers should keep an eye on is the debate going on in Congress on the “card check” bill, entitled The Employee Free Choice Act. “There is no hope in the House (that the bill will be defeated),” Furth said. “There may be some hope in the Senate.”
The legislation, if approved, would allow workers to form unions without voting in private ballots and by obtaining a majority sign-up by the use of the “card check” procedure.
If eventually approved, the measure would stiffen penalties against employers that illegally fire or discriminate against workers for their union activity during an organizing or first contract drive, including requiring employers to pay treble back pay to workers whom they are found to have illegally fired.
It also would allow employers and newly formed unions to refer bargaining to mediation and, if necessary, binding arbitration if they are not able to agree on a first contract.
Furth noted that the legislation is supported by organized labor, including the AFL-CIO, Teamsters, United Auto Workers and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).
Furth advised carriers to begin programs for discussing the subject with workers, establish a human resources communications strategy, and audit these processes on a regular basis to ensure fairness with employees. He said employers should talk about the facts and offer opinions, but not to display an argumentative attitude that could be interpreted as threatening.
Companies opposed to the legislation should contact their Congressional delegations, visit the members of Congress, attend local town hall meetings, write letters to editors and opinion editorials and submit them to local newspapers.
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