HALIFAX, N.S. — Truck wheels continue to roll while non-essential travelers across several Canadian regions face tighter restrictions in the fight against Covid-19.
But that hardly means truck drivers have escaped changes to their workdays. New protocols and procedures have become part of their new normal.
“We continue to keep in place the protocols that were implemented in the spring,” says Eassons Transport CEO Trevor Bent, who is currently overseeing such work from home because of a Covid-19 case at his children’s school.
A Covid-19 committee has been established to reassure drivers that support is available, and the HR and safety teams closely track the movements of every employee in case they demonstrate symptoms and need to self isolate. Hotels and other facilities that could potentially be needed for that purpose have been identified across the country.
Conveying current information also remains a central part of the process, as truck drivers struggle to make sense of rules that might apply to family members but not themselves.
Mark Goudge, an Eassons employee, developed a poster to convey Covid-19 protocols to those who visit company terminals.
“We are working towards a no-touch system for shippers/receivers and drivers. So, during a reset, I spent some time designing the sign for the Eassons delivery points. Everyone has to do their part,” Goudge says.
He’s personally been home for 56 days this year, and spent a full two months in his truck, largely to keep loved ones safe from the virus.
“I didn’t want to visit my mother, who is in a nursing home, or see my girlfriend because I travel to the U.S., and I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I passed it along unknowingly,” Gouge says. “I barely leave my truck when I am on the road.”
Instead, he relies on comforts such as a microwave, fridge, cooler, TV, DVD player, and computer to make the cab feel like a home. There is also 2-1/2 weeks of food on board for every trip. “A vacuum sealer,” he adds, “is my best friend.”
The very nature of the job ensures that truck drivers are largely isolated. Many days on the job can go by without seeing any more than two or three people. But Gouge knows he can’t let down his guard.
“The virus doesn’t know we are designated essential, and I am a rules guy.”
Gouge describes himself as “socially respectful and socially responsible”. When he came across a voluntary driver testing clinic at an Ontario truck stop, he went for a Covid-19 test for his own peace of mind. It wasn’t the only time he took a test. If he had his way, rapid testing would be set up in truck stops everywhere.
“We all know the risks of being out there on the road, but this job needs to be done. We need to keep freight rolling. So many depend on us,” he says.
The biggest challenge has been making sense of public health announcements, and which ones apply to essential workers.
“The rules and regulations should be made clear and be the same across the country for all truckers,” says Richard Joules, who travels weekly between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. “Right now, the rules in Newfoundland are different than the rules in Nova Scotia.”
Newfoundland and Labrador – like P.E.I. – tells workers like truck drivers to self isolate with family when returning home. Those in P.E.I. are required to take a series of Covid-19 tests when returning to the island province.
At least the tools needed to stay safe seem to be readily available.
Daryl Makarowski, who returned to trucking after his other job ended during Covid-19, says Canada Cartage keeps him in a steady supply of masks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and a sanitizing spray for the cab itself.
“I would say about 30% of the drivers I encounter in truck stops are not wearing masks.”– Daryl Makarowski
But he is worried about those who don’t take things seriously.
“Truck stops I have been in so far are not enforcing the mask wearing rule,” Makarowski says. “I would say about 30% of the drivers I encounter in truck stops are not wearing masks. Most drivers I meet are under the impression they are exempt from any self-isolation rules because we have been deemed essential services.”
Trevor Yousie, a car hauler with Jack Cooper Canada, was out of work for a couple of months and relied on CERB payments during that time. But now he’s happy to be back to work – even if some new requirements have been introduced in the meantime.
“The company has been great with the drivers in ensuring we are safe and healthy enough to work. We are screened, surveyed and temperature checked daily at our terminals, and are encouraged to self-monitor continually.”
When a worker who had been loading cars was exposed to Covid-19, everyone who spent time loading with that person was told to self -monitor.
But even though truck stops are taking precautions, he has seen other changes emerge during the second wave.
“The restaurants are shutting down to sit in service and are offering take out only again,” he says. “I did notice on this recent trip that a Tim Horton’s that I visit regularly was closed. Not sure what it was about, but it is very unusual.”
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