Every experienced trucker knows that cooler heads will always prevail. The phrase just holds a special meaning for those who haul reefers.
Indeed, truckers who remain focused on a few important procedures can address many of the common challenges that are linked to refrigerated loads.
The job begins with keeping a close eye on the equipment itself. Coolant levels, belts and oil levels need to be inspected before any trip to ensure that everything will work as designed. And a regular look at the reflection of warning lights in the West Coast mirror – or the automated messages sent to a smartphone – will help to confirm that the system continues to run as it should.
The focus on equipment is hardly limited to hot summer days. Those who haul reefers through the Prairies during winter months may want to keep the refrigeration units idling all the time rather than relying on an automated start and stop cycle. The cost of the extra fuel will pale in comparison to storage fees and time in a service bay if the reefer unit fails to start when required.
And while any mechanical system can fail at one time or another, fleets can prepare their drivers for technical problems by supplying lists of qualified service centres or dealerships that should be called if temperatures begin to shift.
As important as the pieces of equipment may be, however, the systems also need to be used correctly if they are expected to protect their cargo.
Reefers are designed to maintain temperatures rather than actually cool a load. This makes pre-cooling strategies particularly important. For example, it can take four to six hours to cool a trailer down to the 34 F (1 C) needed to protect a load of apples, carrots or broccoli. The 28 F (-2 C) needed for frozen foods can require more time than that, and a summer heat wave will only add to the timelines.
Obviously, the sooner dispatchers can inform drivers about the temperatures needed for the next load, the better.
Human errors present a challenge of their own. Some drivers have been known to forget to press the ‘Enter’ key after punching the related temperatures into control pads, leaving the reefer to default to the temperatures that were selected for the last load.
A focus on the condition of the trailer itself will also play a role in the cooling process.
The reefer’s cooling flow of air needs a clear path for its trip around the cargo. Securement devices like straps and logistics bars can help to maintain an unobstructed flow of air around the bulkheads, and a well-placed pair of discarded skids can create their own barriers against any shifting cargo.
Meanwhile, the reefer chute that stretches into the trailer will need to be free of any obstructions, and checked for rips caused by forklifts that lift skids just a little too high.
But the potential for damaged cargo is not limited to temperatures alone. It’s why the drain holes found along the frame rails at the front and back of the trailer should be cleared of any debris like chunks of old pallets, allowing any unwanted water to escape.
As important as the conditions inside the trailer may be, drivers also need to monitor the original temperature of any new cargo that is loaded on-board.
No matter what style of pulp thermometer is used, the most accurate temperature readings will be measured along the outside of the pallet and at the centre of the load. Then it is a matter of comparing these readings to the required temperatures identified on the bill of lading, and contacting dispatchers if there is any difference.
At the very least, the document can be marked with news that a shipper did not allow the driver to examine the load.
After all, a constant stream of information will be as important as the cool breeze from the reefer.
Drivers who inform dispatchers about temperature problems will protect the fleet from the cost of rejected loads.
Dispatchers and shippers who hear about equipment breakdowns will also have the chance to work together to save the cargo. And those who call their insurers as soon as a receiver rejects a load can enjoy the support of a skilled insurance adjuster while the freight can still be inspected.
Challenges are bound to happen. The solutions are simply a matter of paying attention to the details and keeping your cool. n
– This month’s experts are David Goruk and Matt Graveline. David is a risk services specialist and has served the trucking industry for more than 25 years providing loss control and risk management services to the trucking industry. Matt is a senior risk services consultant for Northbridge Insurance, and has more than 20 years’ experience in the trucking industry as both a long-haul driver and an owner/operator. Northbridge Insurance is a leading Canadian commercial insurer built on the strength of four companies with a longstanding history in the marketplace and has been serving the trucking industry for more than 60 years. You can visit them at www.nbfc.com.