There is an awful lot done in the name of safety within the trucking industry.
The word safety is used to justify everything from the hours-of-service rules to the random drug testing of drivers in the trucking business.
The great irony is that truck driving remains one of the most dangerous professions.
Based on the number of deaths per thousand, commercial truck drivers usually come in behind forestry workers, fishers, farmers, construction workers, and airplane pilots on this list.
But safety is not about compliance with a set of rules, in my opinion. Rules are simply the checklist of actions that lead to a safe working environment.
Safety in our business is about awareness.
It’s about focusing on the task at hand. It’s about being mindful of the present moment, always.
That focus is incredibly hard to maintain over the course of an 11- to 13-hour driving shift.
We tend to think of safety revolving principally around the task of driving and take for granted the other tasks we perform in the course of a day. One of the dangers of working around heavy equipment by yourself is that experience can breed complacency, which can lead to injury.
I received a wake-up call this past November when I came close to trapping myself between the bed of a trailer and the trailer tandems.
I was in the process of sliding the tandems on the trailer and was struggling with a locking pin that was sticking in place.
This was a task I have performed countless times over the years.
The short answer to the question, ‘What were the circumstances leading up to this close call?’ is that I was not focused and being mindful of the task at hand.
It is very easy to get ahead of yourself in this game of trucking. I had a full agenda on that day.
There were four pick-ups waiting for me to do that were spread across two states with a fairly narrow window of opportunity to get the job done.
The American Thanksgiving holiday was looming and thoughts of planning my time to avoid the heavy traffic around Chicago the following day while meeting the delivery requirements were on my mind.
I also had to work in a fuel stop and look after the Customs paperwork for all four orders.
All of this would have meant nothing if I ended up with my arm pinned from shoulder to wrist between 30,000 pounds of trailer and a set of duals.
Needless to say, my life moving forward would have changed forever if luck had not intervened.
So I stood there in the parking lot that day gathering my thoughts, giving thanks to the fact that I used a 4-ft. pry bar to knock that pin loose and had not opted to grab a hammer and reach under the trailer to knock it loose. I just wasn’t thinking.
If I was, I would have grabbed the pry bar knowing what the potential dangers were, not just because it was the handiest tool.
I was lucky and the experience raised a lot of questions. Here are a few of them: Am I protecting myself in the appropriate manner when I’m performing all of the routine tasks in my day?
Am I wearing my safety shoes, work gloves, and safety glasses every time I step into the trailer to load or unload freight?
How many times have I dropped a load bar or freight on my feet over the years? How many nails have I pulled out of the floor of trailers? How many times have I cut myself on sharp metal on bars or pulled large splinters out of my hands?
How many times have I undecked freight above my head and dropped dust and other crap in my face and eyes? Have I always been fully conscious of how freight shifts when I release straps? How many times have I come close to trapping myself between pieces of freight or the sidewall of a trailer or have to jump out of the way of freight falling from above?
You get the point. Many of you, probably most of you, have suffered at least minor injuries being in one of these situations over the years.
So do you or does your company provide out-of-country medical coverage? Do you have a long-term and short-term disability insurance plan to look after you if injured?
How do these plans work if you are even aware of them? What would be the consequences to you and your loved ones be if you were injured and did not have coverage?
It’s January, a new year is at hand. If you’re looking to make some simple resolutions that can have a lasting impact on your career and personal life, this would be a great place to start. Safety first folks, nobody has our back out there.
Al Goodhall has been a professional long-haul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his ‘Over the Road’ blog at http://truckingacrosscanada.blogspot.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Al_Goodhall.