Drivers need to be informed

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DON MILLS, Ont. – While many maintenance programs may focus on shop floors, drivers need to be informed for any system to work, according to speakers at the recent Canadian Fleet Maintenance Seminar.

“Drivers need time and knowledge to perform a proper pre-trip inspection. They also need tools such as a simple flashlight and tape measure,” said Mike Winegardner, who has conducted 4,000 inspections in his role as a transportation enforcement officer with Ontario’s Transportation Ministry.

Making drivers part of the maintenance process is a good way to avoid what Itamar Levine, director of maintenance for Bison Transport, calls an often “conflicting objective.”

“Spec’ driver-friendly vehicles. This is a no-brainer,” he said. “Drivers can teach you a lot about incorrect spec’ing. Form a spec’ing committee.”

Levine said that assigned units will avoid the problem of slip-seating, and encourage drivers to be more interested in the maintenance of assigned vehicles.

In terms of processes, Levine said that companies should try to develop checklists relevant to the type of equipment the driver is using.

“If you want your drivers to take these inspections seriously, have a credible checklist, or you’re making a mockery of the procedure,” said Levine.

He said Bison tries to provide inspection-friendly conditions in the yard. The carrier also provides a sort of valet service, where all outbound trucks are rounded up and staged one hour prior to departure. This way, said Levine, the drivers are not hurried, and will be more inclined to perform a thorough pre-trip inspection.

Conversely, trucks coming back into the terminal will go through an “inspection day drive-through”, where any problems are flagged and addressed before the truck goes out again.

Levine said that strengthened communication between drivers and mechanics is important, because drivers can be an essential part of any diagnosis.

“If you involve your drivers in the operation of your fleet maintenance, you’ll have a stronger and more effective program,” said Levine.

But Kim Richardson of Kim Richardson Transportation Specialists said that driver training for such things as maintenance procedures has to take into account that different people learn in different ways.

“It’s important to keep in mind the character of the adult learner. Adults learn best by doing, and this approach keeps the motivation level high,” he said.

When it’s a question of making various training programs available, sometimes the terminology itself can contribute to the professionalism of the whole deal. “We’d rather use the term ‘educate’ because you educate people, but you train animals,” said Richardson.

These says, with the availability of computer-based training, Internet courses and simulators, it’s not even a matter of keeping trainers and scheduling classes on a regular basis, says Richardson. But he said drivers want to see meaningful programs, not outdated materials, agenda and videos.

“Put some computer-based training on a computer terminal for a week. You’ll be amazed how many (drivers) will come in to do it, and your retention will improve.”

Upper management also has to believe in the validity of the programs, he said. “If we don’t have buy-in from the CEO’s, these programs are not going to work.”

Future training could take on a whole other dimension, suggested Dave Raynsford of Quik X Transportation. When asked where he thought Canada’s future drivers would come from, Raynsford said “offshore”, but he was only half-joking. “In countries like Russia (and other parts of Eastern Europe), technical training is part of preliminary education, and students can decide to go into transportology at the high school level,” he said. Furthermore, he said training would have to become more intensified, and more in-house based.

“We have, for years, just kind of relied on other sources to provide our training for us. We can’t rely on the government to provide a vehicle operator who will perform the tasks needed in the industry.” n

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