So, you want to haul dangerous goods?

This cover story in the March issue of Truck News explores the transportation of dangerous goods by truck and changes that may be foisted upon that segment of the industry as a result of the terrible rail tragedy that occurred in Lac-Megantic, Que. last summer.

Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has clearly stated she feels the Lac-Megantic incident wasn’t just a rail issue, but a transportation issue, and she has vowed to review TDG by all modes, including truck. In fact, at upcoming hearings to review the transportation of dangerous goods, two full days are expected to be spent discussing truck transportation.

The concerns, some of which were outlined in our cover story (available online here), include worries that the feds will impose further restrictions or tighter regulations upon trucking companies, even though dangerous goods truckers are already highly regulated – much more so than rail – and can boast a safety record that’s really quite impeccable given the volumes of product being transported on a daily basis. It takes a special kind of driver to haul dangerous goods, and most carriers in this segment are cognizant of this. They seek out highly skilled drivers and then diligently train them to become product-handling experts.

I spoke to Marcel Pouliot, vice-president of safety and industrial services with Trimac, to find out the screening process it puts new hires through before handing them the keys.

The company has produced product stewardship manuals for each of the commodities it hauls, and requires drivers to familiarize themselves with the material, so they’re aware of the handling characteristics and unique challenges related to each and every product. This includes learning the intricacies of the equipment that’s used to transport each of those commodities.

Once classroom and hands-on equipment training has been conducted, drivers are paired with a driver-instructor, who they will job-shadow to learn first-hand how to safely load, deliver and unload product. Once they demonstrate a proficiency in these areas, new hires are then turned over to a full-time driver trainer, whose job is to perform a job task observation of the new hire to determine whether or not they are ready to be sent out on their own.

The driver trainer performs a road test, a product-handling test and a knowledge test. Even at this point, some drivers are released from the company if they don’t demonstrate the appropriate skill set. Others are finally allowed to begin making deliveries on their own. But the training doesn’t end there. The driver trainers continue to perform job task observations on all existing drivers at least once per year. Pouliot told me that Trimac currently employs 1,150 drivers in Canada and last year performed 3,482 job task observations.

“That is how we train our drivers and how we verify the level of competency of our drivers,” Pouliot said. “We coach them on an ongoing basis throughout their career.”

Not only are dangerous goods drivers required to be professional drivers behind the wheel, they must also be product-handling and equipment experts. There’s a shared sense of responsibility for safety from the top to the bottom, and Trimac is not unique within the trucking industry in this regard.

Following the Lac-Megantic tragedy, Ed Burkhardt, chairman of the now-bankrupt railway that caused the catastrophe, gallingly shifted the blame to his employees. “I wasn’t the guy who didn’t set the brakes on the train,” he told media, while also complaining about the toll the disaster took on his personal finances.

Such a shirking of responsibility and lack of accountability is unthinkable in the trucking industry. We mustn’t paint all rail carriers with the same brush, but it’s clear the two modes are so vastly different that to impose rail-type solutions on the trucking industry would be wrong and impractical.


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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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