To be sure, there are a host of massive policy and regulatory initiatives underway that could have a massive impact on how business is conducted in trucking for decades to come.
I have written in this column on most of them: Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs), national fuel economy standards, sleep apnea, etc. However, most carriers operate in the here and now, and while they are very supportive of their association’s efforts on these mega-issues, there are a host of bread and butter issues and concerns that are constant irritants for carriers requiring ongoing attention from their associations.
Ask any carrier today and they will tell you that the provincial workers’ compensation system is out of control. Sure, as employers the carriers understand that the workers’ compensation system protects them from lawsuits and the vast majority put the safety of their employees at the top of the priority list.
However, that does not mean that the system shouldn’t be administered properly and run like a true insurance program. It’s not so much the premiums that the carriers object to, although to a great extent they are a reflection of the soundness or lack thereof of the system, but the ballooning unfunded liability (currently $12 billion and growing), the level of fraudulent claims and the seeming lack of effective effort in making sure that all companies are registered for WSIB and paying their fair share, that drives carriers crazy.
There are too many companies in our industry that have no employees. I am not talking about legitimate relationships between carriers and owner/operators; I’m referring to the so-called “contract drivers” for whom no taxes are withheld or paid, who have no workers’ compensation coverage, etc.
When a claim from one of these drivers needs to be paid, there are no matching premiums. Guess who pays? All the companies that are properly registered in the system and paying premiums. While the system is entirely funded by the employers, there seems to be less and less balance in the way the board deals with employers. When I joined the industry 25 years ago, one of the first files I was given was workers’ compensation. It was a mess then and I would say it is a worse mess today. Programs that worked, where employers were able to turn investment in prevention into a profit centre (ie. the New Experimental Experience Rating system or NEER) have been gutted. The Transportation Health and Safety Association has been trashed. As far as I am concerned, the day is looming and it is unavoidable that government, industry and labour are going to have to give real consideration to some mix of private and public insurance.
As long as there are trucks and inspection stations, there will be a certain level of friction between carriers, drivers and the inspection officers. It is also true that roadside inspections are trying to serve two competing goals: 1) To get bad carriers (trucks) off the road; and 2) To gather data that is truly random and produces a baseline for each carrier.
The carriers I talk to understand the role of the enforcement program and accept that it is needed. They as much as anyone, want the unsafe equipment off the highways. They also know it takes two to tango and sometimes a frustrated driver can talk himself into a ticket. On the other side of the coin, on any given day you will find an inspector who got up on the wrong side of the bed and feels the best way to get over it is to flex his or her muscles a bit. That is human nature.
But, where I think the carriers believe the problems are more systemic are: a) Good equipment from responsible carriers is more likely to be inspected because it’s just easier and takes far less time and effort; and b) No credit is given for a “triage” (quick look) inspection where no defects were visible (ie. no inspection record created, no CVSA inspection decal given, no reflection on the carrier’s CVOR record). The truck is simply sent on its way. At the heart of the issue, is that “triage” is not clearly defined.
Carriers are finding that trucks may be subjected to what would normally be classified as a Level 3 inspection (check driver records) or Level 2 inspection (check driver records and inspect tractor and trailer), yet in the absence of defects, basically it’s as if no inspection has taken place. Some carriers are able to measure the time their truck is in inspection and claim that a triage can take more time than a Level 2 inspection. These things undermine the credibility of the program in many carriers’ eyes.
We can complain and criticize (usually with good reason) about these programs, but it is highly unlikely that workers’ compensation or roadside inspections will ever become a thing of the past. They are both an important part of our economy and of our industry. So, we need to find a way to make our point and seek positive change to the problems outlined above. I am under no illusion that this is an easy process, but by compiling the facts, by bringing forward thoughtful remedies, we can and we will make things better. We have to.
-David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.