Opinion: Fleet safety begins at home

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Fleet yards are designed to be safe, secure spaces. It’s where the activities of trucking can be segregated from the outside world. There are no commuters to be found, no members of the general public to walk or cycle in and out of a truck’s blind spots.

There are still dangers, though.

Four separate fatalities have reminded us of this in recent months. (See Shattered, page 32.) Three of the losses occurred in fleet yards. Another happened within view of a fuel island.

There is a reason why many safety-related policies and investments tend to focus on the open road. The trucking industry shares its workplace with people who often seem blissfully unaware about the limits of what truck drivers can see, or the space required to stop. It is why fleets invest in supplementary mirrors and collision mitigation systems, review telematics data to identify surges in hard-stopping events, and deliver training in defensive driving techniques.

The commitment to safety can’t begin and end outside the yard gates, however. The threats that exist close to home are no less real than those found on the open highway.

No fleet is immune. One of the most jarring facts associated with all three of the recent yard fatalities is that they were connected to fleets known for strong commitments to safety – Bison Transport, Kriska Transportation, and Sharp Transportation. Each has formally documented safety policies and procedures in place, upgraded facilities, and more. I would go so far as to suggest they have been recognized as some of the safest fleets in Canada. Their records back up that assertion.

But no strategy is perfect. No matter what policies are in place, there are always examples of unforeseen circumstances, and even well-trained people have been known to slip into bad habits.

Visit any yard, anywhere, and you will see the examples. Personnel walk around tractor-trailers while reflective vests sit unworn in the cab or on an office chair. We see people bypass defined pathways to save a few steps while walking through a warehouse or back to the truck. Drivers nudge beyond posted speed limits in the rush to get equipment on its way as quickly as possible. And where did the last guy put the cones, tags and signs that were ordered to warn coworkers about imminent threats?

Following the death of Chris Hesch, Sharp Transportation president Shawn Baird is scouring his location for things that could be done differently.

The fleet’s yard truck was destroyed after it was found to have mechanical defects, even though the defects were not deemed to be a factor in Hesch’s death. A late-model day cab moves the trailers now. Existing policies about wearing reflective vests, on the books for several years, are now strictly enforced. The lines that guide foot traffic through the shop have been repainted. And he wonders if more can be done. Maybe physical barriers need to be erected between the building wall and the trailers that are parked against it, he suggests.

Just to be safer.

Because no matter what steps the drivers take to protect the general public, their safety begins at home.


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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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