Many Ontario transportation enforcement officers (TEOs) are unhappy with working conditions that they say compromise safety on the job. But are these workplace concerns compromising road safety as well?
There’s reason to believe they are. Five enforcement officers recently told Today’s Trucking that a quota-based system forces them to focus on quantity over quality. It has long been suspected that Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) adheres enforcement officers to a quota, and now it’s been confirmed by multiple inspectors and even a report commissioned by the MTO itself.
The magic number is 600 per year. Officers say they receive poor performance reviews if they don’t meet that number. Why is that problematic? Well, several TEOs told us they regularly inspect clean, late-model trucks because those inspections can be done faster, helping them meet their quota.
When we first reported this on TruckNews.com, several drivers tweeted they’ve witnessed this first-hand. One driver reported having his brand new truck pulled in for inspection twice within its first two weeks of service.
This is worrying because it can potentially paint an inaccurate picture of the province’s truck safety. If newer trucks are being inspected disproportionately, then we can forget about the truck safety stats the MTO feeds us and the general public.
It’s also worrying because the quota system means trucks that pose the greatest risk are potentially ignored, while low-risk trucks are brought in for inspection.
Not every enforcement officer is involved in such protest actions. As reported elsewhere in this issue, one enforcement officer told me he continues to target high-risk trucks even though he suffers a poor performance review due to missing his 600-inspection quota. What’s clear is that the quota system has to be abandoned if truck safety is to be enhanced.
I’d rather see officers inspect 400 ratty old trucks than 600 new ones. Let’s put the enforcement focus back where it belongs — on marginal, unsafe operators.
But until the MTO and its front-line enforcement regime get onto the same page, it’s unlikely to happen. The above-mentioned report by the Public Services Health and Safety Association (PSHSA) revealed a long list of legitimate safety concerns faced by enforcement officers.
Officers tell us those concerns have yet to be addressed and that further work actions — such as the work refusal that temporarily took all TEOs off the job on Jan. 23 — are likely to come.
There’s little reason to believe the MTO will address safety concerns raised by its enforcement personnel. In fact, the PSHSA report repeats many of the same concerns that were highlighted in a 1998 report produced by A.F. Montgomery and Associates. More than 20 years later, the same safety concerns seem to exist, as do the same tensions between MTO and some of its frontline officers.
Ontario’s truck enforcement officers play a vital role in ensuring the safety of our highways. They protect us from bad actors and routinely prevent catastrophic crashes from happening before it’s too late. But a disgruntled workforce driven by management to meet a quota is not an effective workforce.
MTO needs to address legitimate safety concerns raised by members of Ontario’s enforcement community, and do away with a quota system that incentivizes targeting clean, late model equipment instead of the trucks that pose the greatest risk to public safety.
Denying the quota exists is not the answer. Eliminating the quota and encouraging TEOs to target high-risk trucks is.
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