How to keep truck cabs clean in the fight against Covid-19

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TORONTO, Ont. — How often did your mother remind to wash your hands after using the washroom and before sitting down to a meal? If you’re like many people, those words now echo like a distant early warning siren. Still, hand washing isn’t yet a habit for many. That may soon change.

“I guess I have changed some of my habits. I’m standing farther away from people, washing my hands more often, and being careful what I touch and how I open doors,” says driver Gary Ebelhar, who was traveling from Vancouver to Los Angeles when we spoke Tuesday morning. “But I’m not doing it all the time. It hasn’t become a habit for me yet. It’s not the normal I or anyone else is used to.”

No, it’s not normal or routine behavior, yet. Nor is refraining from touching your face or rubbing your eyes when tired. Yet refraining from such contact is a recommended way of reducing the possibility of infection from Covid-19. Reducing is the operative word here. There’s no guarantee of prevention.

Areas frequently touched by drivers while they work should be cleaned and sanitized when a new driver starts work or a technician services the truck.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person when they are in close contact with one another (within about six feet), primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. WHO says these droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

It may also be possible to get Covid-19 by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching your own mouth, nose or possibly eyes. Health Canada says picking up the virus from a surface is possible, but this transmission method is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.

“I’m not doing it all the time. It hasn’t become a habit for me yet.”

– Gary Ebelhar, truck driver

Current evidence suggests that the virus may remain viable for hours or even days on different surfaces. Depending on the source of the information (there’s some disagreement here), the virus can survive on porous surfaces like paper or cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on less-permeable surfaces such as plastic, glass, or steel for 48 to 72 hours. Those numbers are basically meaningless though, since there’s no way to be sure when, if ever, a surface has seen the virus. Your best assumption is that the virus is present, and therefore, you should wash your hands as soon as possible after touching something that you have no control over, such as a door knob, an ATM keypad, or an ELD screen in a slip-seat truck.

In fact, just about every surface inside the cab, even the door handles and gladhands, could be a source of transmission. Even though Health Canada stresses that physical contact with surfaces is not considered the primary line of transmission, it won’t hurt to be cautions and wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.

Gearshifts or selectors need to be wiped down frequently. Experts suggest spending at least a minute scrubbing the surface.

How to keep the cab clean

This advice applies to every driver, but it’s highly applicable to drivers operating different trucks, such as those in slipseat operations. Before starting a driving shift, wipe down all the surfaces you’re likely to touch with an appropriate cleaning product or hot soapy water. It may take an extra 10 minutes at the start of the shift, but you’ll make that up with the lack of traffic clogging the highways these days. Surfaces include the steering wheel, gear shift or selector, all driver switches and controls, as well as door handles (interior and exterior) and glass. And don’t forget to wipe down surfaces in the sleeper, too. If you’re on a steady truck or your own truck, take the same precautions, but you may not have to be quite so vigorous as you’re it’s only occupant.

Bedding and linens should also be laundered regularly. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using hot water and advises against shaking dirty laundry, to avoid dispersing the virus through the air. Launder the laundry bag as well, or dispose of any garbage bags used to store dirty laundry.

For electronics such as tablets, touch screens, and keyboards, remove any visible contamination following the manufacturer’s instructions. Consider using wipeable covers for electronics. If no manufacturer guidance is available, consider the use of alcohol-based wipes or sprays containing at least 70% alcohol to disinfect touch screens. But to prevent damage, do not spray liquids directly on to the device and don’t immerse them in cleaning solutions.

Cleaning for technicians

CDC says it is not known how long the air inside a room (in this case, the cab of a truck) occupied by someone with confirmed Covid-19 remains potentially infectious. While it would seem unlikely that the environment in the cab would be a potential source of infection, leaving windows open prior to driving or servicing the truck might be advisable. At the very least, technicians should wear protective gloves or thoroughly wipe down surfaces they are likely to touch while performing service on the truck, especially door handles, steering wheels, and gear shifts. And, of course, they need to thoroughly wash their hands after the job is completed.

“They should be paying attention to the high-touch points in the shop, such as telephones, touch screens, keyboards, and the like,” says Joe Puff, vice-president of truck technology and maintenance at NationaLease. “It’s the same with trucks — the grab handles, steering wheels, and places that drivers touch all the time need to be properly wiped down as precaution. It’s doesn’t take much, and that little bit of effort can save lot of grief.”

Should you need to get your truck serviced while you’re on the road, you might be asked to stay with the truck so the technician won’t need to climb inside.

“As additional precaution, employees have been instructed to avoid entering the truck cab unless the repair/work at hand is actually in the cab,” says Homer Hogg, director of technical service at TravelCenters of America. “We ask that drivers stay in the cab to complete tasks such as starting the engine, turning on lights, signals, wipers, setting brakes, etc.”

For repairs or inspections that require a technician to enter the cab, Hogg says the techs have been instructed to wear disposable gloves. “We also have instructed our technicians in frequent and proper hand washing techniques and to stay home if they are feeling ill.”

Alcohol or bleach solutions are best for rubbing out the virus on contact, but hot soapy works almost as well.

Recommended cleaning products

Cleaning products remove germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces by using soap (or detergent) and water. Cleaning does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection. Disinfecting products kill germs on surfaces using chemicals.

Health Canada has published a list of hard-surface disinfectants that meets its criteria for use against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease Covid-19. The agency suggests cross referencing the eight-digit drug identification number (DIN) on the package (usually in near-microscopic print) with the number on the product list to ensure the product is effective against the virus, and is approved and safe for use in Canada.

The long list includes dozens of commercial and industrial cleaning products as well as household products. These are disinfectants, as opposed to simple cleaning products. As disinfectants, there is some virus-killing capability, while common cleaning products may just transfer the virus from the surface to the rag or wipe. In either case, wipes and rags should be properly disposed of or laundered after use.

Many of the recommended products contain sodium hypochlorite, which is the main ingredient in laundry bleach. If the products listed on the Health Canada list are not readily available, a mixture of five tablespoons (1/3 cup) bleach per gallon of water, or four teaspoons bleach per quart of water, makes an effective substitute. It may not smell as nice as some of the store-bought product, but it will do the job. And never mix household bleach with ammonia or any other cleanser.

Consumer products usually come ready to use, but some commercial products may have to be diluted as per the manufacturer’s instructions. When using such cleansers, allow proper ventilation during and after application.

While effective cleaning products are hard to find, hand sanitizer is even scarcer, unless you’re prepared to pay $17 a bottle to some eBay troll. Major health organizations say alcohol-based products with concentrations of at least 60-70% are as effective as soap-and-water hand washing. But don’t be lulled into thinking you’re doing the right thing if you’re using a product with a lesser alcohol concentration. It’s not as effective, CDC notes. The concentration is important.

There are loads of recipes online for making your own alcohol-based sanitizer, but many experts advise against it. They say it could turn out too diluted, in which case it would be of little value. It could also be too strong, which could lead to injuries.

Public spaces

Assume public surfaces could be contaminated. You should wipe down what surfaces you can, but that obviously impractical in many situations. Also, limit the time you spend in closed spaces in the company of others, and stay at least six feet apart at all times.

“Surfaces frequently touched with hands are most likely to be contaminated,” cautions Health Canada. “These include doorknobs, handrails, elevator buttons, light switches, cabinet handles, faucet handles, tables, countertops and electronics.”

The bottom line is, take precautions and wash your hands thoroughly after touching any object of which you’re unsure, and do not touch your face, put your fingers or anything else near your mouth, nose or eyes. And if you have to cough or sneeze, use correct sneeze and cough etiquette, such as covering your mouth with a handkerchief or an arm or hand, and of course, wash up afterward.

Stay safe and help flatten the curve.

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Jim Park was a CDL driver and owner-operator from 1978 until 1998, when he began his second career as a trucking journalist. During that career transition, he hosted an overnight radio show on a Hamilton, Ontario radio station and later went on to anchor the trucking news in SiriusXM's Road Dog Trucking channel. Jim is a regular contributor to Today's Trucking and, and produces Focus On and On the Spot test drive videos.

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  • Its extremely difficult to avoid infection with Covid 19 in the truck. Just as a example the paper work which I have to send to custom brokers. I use my portable microwave to kill the possibly virus but what about drivers who don’t have the microwave. Most of drivers don’t know that bills of ladings can carry virus for many days .
    Metal ,plastic its the same .Sadly most of drivers will get infected ,even with great approach to the danger but to many things to touch .Refueling with the app but still have to touch the pad with the code ,if you have gloves you need to spray them with Lysol to go to cabin other wise before driver get the water from the bucket in the truck he will touch other things ,Im wearing mask since January and use gloves and Lysol , Im not infected yet because only 390 thousand in all States infected but when this number hit let say 10 millions it will be very difficult to avoid infection

  • I totally agree that drivers shuldnt have too change trucks during this pandemic. My company gave me a truck that wihin seconds of being in the cab I was literally gonna be sick due too the stink and the disgusting shape the cab was in, I refused too drive it, it also almost caught fire while in the yard, I was forced too leave the company cause they said if I didnt drive the truck, too bobtail back too home yard and cleanout the truck.. How is it that there are all these laws and regulations for drivers but yet companys get away with illegal runn8ng and treating drivers like slaves and being underpaid for their time wasted by a company? Guess the more money the companies have the more they can screw over the drivers! I am now homeless and jobless because of the company I was with who have been forcing me too quit in the last few months. Even was pushed too haul a trailer down the highway that all front corner trailer lights including signal light wasnt working, company said have too drive it too hamilton yard from picton ontario. Health n safety for drivers is a joke if ya work for huge companies, cause your a number not a person! Been driving for over fifteen years and got my licence thru Fifth Wheel Training Institute out of New Liskeard Ont. Now thinking on giving up my az licence due too companies are getting away with treating drivers unfairly thru this pandemic. Trucking industry is becomeing a joke and unsafe highways. We as drivers keep the country running and yet we are treated unfairly!

  • The obligations of our representatives in Washington are to protect our liberty, not coddle the world, precipitating no-win wars, while bringing bankruptcy and economic turmoil to our people. —- Ron Paul

  • I been trucking over 40 years. It did not take a pandemic to get me sanitizing cab. The last 22 years I have been on night shift line haul and every trip I have sanitized the controls in an attempt to avoid colds/flu. I just assume the last driver in truck spent their day horking and wheezing’ all over cab while mining boogers.

  • Assume public surfaces could be contaminated. You should wipe down what surfaces you can, but that obviously impractical in many situations.

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  • next time either drive the truck to the nearest scale or call the MTO directly. Most larger cities have commercial vehicle divisions in their police force – you can call them as well.
    Years ago – when I had a company want me to move equipment that was not fit, I asked them to sign a piece of paper that they were aware of the defects on the truck and they were asking me to drive anyway – they wouldn’t and I found a better job – good drivers are always in demand.
    Also – DO NOT DRIVE – in case there is an incident – you are still liable – just imagine what their lawyer will ask you in court – as soon as it is shown you drove the truck knowing there were defects – you’re screwed