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‘Sharpen your (pushrod) pencils’

ST. CATHARINES, Ont. - An internal Ontario Ministry of Transportation bulletin obtained by Truck News indicates that some of the province's inspectors may not have been as accurate as they needed to b...


ST. CATHARINES, Ont. – An internal Ontario Ministry of Transportation bulletin obtained by Truck News indicates that some of the province’s inspectors may not have been as accurate as they needed to be when measuring brake pushrod travel. And the problem comes down to the tools they were using.

The Nov. 29, 1999 document sent to holders of the Enforcement Procedures Manual admits that some officers have not been using proper marking devices when recording the distance, which is measured by fractions of an inch.

“Officers in some cases are not using a straight, sharp marking tool when scribing pushrods for brake measurement,” says Bulletin-EP-9-37, initiated by Mike Goodale, manager of the Carrier Enforcement Program Office.

“These marking tools can consist of soap stone, chalk, lumber crayon or any other type of marker that is legible. In some cases, the mark is a considerable distance from the chamber face. In other cases, the mark is not straight. There is also a misconception that we are measuring from the wrong side of a thick mark, putting the operator at a disadvantage.”

Officers are now being told to sharpen their marking devices “to a fine point, which will produce a thin line on the pushrod parallel and flush with the chamber face … the actual measurement shall be taken from the inside of the line closest to the chamber face.”

Such an action, says the bulletin that was also approved by Carrier Safety and Enforcement Branch director Mike Weir, “will allow for a more uniform and accurate inspection.”

“We don’t want any carrier charged because of sloppy inspection methods,” says Rolf Vanderzwaag, who deals with maintenance issues at the Ontario Trucking Association. “But I don’t know of any particular cases our members have raised where this happened.

“We think Ontario has been pretty intensive in their efforts to raise brake issues.”

The memo was issued in response to lawyers who were raising the argument that the width of a mark could affect a charge, Goodale says. “We hadn’t lost … we’re just saying (to inspectors), sharpen your pencils.”

The ministry may not have lost court battles, but some fines have been lowered in out-of-court settlements that came about because the accuracy of measurements had been challenged. Traffic Safety Consultant Bob Cole has been involved in three such cases – and two of those involved downgrading $10,000 fines for equipment that had been impounded in the province’s notorious Truck Jail.

Cole has raised the question of accurate measurements several times, particularly since he earned his own out-of-service ticket for brakes that were measured 1/32 of an inch out of adjustment at the Putnam, Ont. scalehouse.

“There’s no way you can measure a push rod to a 1/32 of an inch,” he says, referring to how the measurements are taken by inspectors who are hanging upside down, reaching forward and looking through the shadows. (As a former CVSA-certified OPP officer, he’s been there.) He thinks a careful inspector can – at best – record a measurement within an eighth of an inch.

Cole also questions the recent use of digital tapes, and how officers are relying on them as the definitive measuring device. Manufacturers of the tapes claim an accuracy of 1/16 inch under ideal situations, Cole says. And with a grease mark on the tape, he was able to throw off a measurment by as much as half an inch.

Imagine what happens with the grease under a truck, he muses.

Brake-related defects continue to lead out-of-service violations in regions across Canada, accounting for about 40 per cent of defects. Despite problems that may have existed, however, Ontario led the country in the lowest percentage of brake defects during the recent Operation Air Brake. n


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