DUNMORE, Alta. - As Alberta Transportation inspector George McLennan sits behind the one-way glass at the Dunmore inspection station, he can't help but reflect on how times have changed since he broke...
LABOUR OF LOVE: George McLennan's love of equipment is one thing that helps him enjoy his job as an inspector.Photo by James Menzies
DUNMORE, Alta. – As Alberta Transportation inspector George McLennan sits behind the one-way glass at the Dunmore inspection station, he can’t help but reflect on how times have changed since he broke into the industry 24 years ago. As the trucks slowly roll over the scale embedded in the pavement outside, the weight of each axle group flashes on the computer in front of him.
It wasn’t always so simple. McLennan recalls the early days, working in what he affectionately refers to as the “chicken coop.” He pulls out a picture of the archaic inspection station that was in use until 1980. Indeed, it’s not much bigger than your average henhouse.
It didn’t even have an indoor washroom, he points out. Back then trucks were weighed on what was essentially just an oversized beam scale – not unlike the ones found in doctors’ offices today. The weights were manually adjusted by inspectors to determine whether a vehicle was overweight.
It’s just one of many changes that McLennan has witnessed during his long-running career. He’s seen the demise of operating authorities and the emergence of the National Safety Code. He’s seen Alberta adopt the tri-axle trailer, which is now the norm on the province’s highways. And he’s seen the equipment get progressively more modern and sophisticated. He has also seen compliance improve over the years, and has watched the industry transform into one that prides itself on its safety record.
Perhaps that’s why, although he has surpassed the age where many of his colleagues choose to retire, McLennan has decided to continue working with the department.
“I like the job,” he says, as the trucks parade by in the background. “I like the variety of things that we do. There’s a lot of independence in this job – you make a lot of your own calls.”
Of course his interest in trucks is another reason being an inspector has developed into a labour of love for McLennan.
“There are so many specialized units out there, especially here in the oil patch,” he says. He can appreciate a finely polished Pete or a well-kept service rig.
As McLennan prepares to conduct a Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) Level 4 inspection during Operation Air Brake, he shows why he has become a popular part of the Dunmore-based inspection team. A trucker chides him while pretending he doesn’t have a drivers’ licence, but McLennan dispatches a witty comeback without hesitation.
Of course there are the other truckers as well – the ones who feel it’s highway robbery every time they’re issued a fine. Those ones can be more difficult to deal with, but for the most part McLennan says they’re few and far between.
“If we charge someone with an offence, it’s a specified penalty. We can’t say ‘You’re a good guy, you only have to pay $25,'” McLennan says. “They always have a chance to appear before a judge and tell their side of the story, but the majority of them support what we do. They know that they’re as in much danger as the next guy if their equipment isn’t safe.”
When McLennan’s not working at the Dunmore inspection station, he can often be found enforcing weight restrictions on almost any primary or secondary provincial highway in the region. The station has a fleet of Ford F150s equipped with mobile scales, a height stick to measure overall vehicle height, a fuel reader to ensure commercial trucks aren’t burning coloured fuel and of course a creeper and chock blocks. Some of the trucks are also equipped with radar.
“The mobile patrols are important because you only have so many static scales,” says McLennan. “A lot of local traffic never goes through the (permanent) scale.”
McLennan doesn’t measure his success by how many fines he hands out. Education is a big part of the job and he issues warnings when it’s appropriate.
“The officer’s discretion is always there,” he says. “What we’re attempting to do is lower the out-of-service rate.”
But the reality is that inspectors have to fine drivers for some offences – it’s the only way to ensure the industry strives to improve its safety record.
McLennan has little sympathy when it comes to drivers who have blatantly disregarded the importance of maintaining their equipment.
“Even when we do a Level 1 inspection, what it basically is, is an extensive pre-trip,” he explains. “We take nothing apart and there’s nothing we see that they wouldn’t have seen if they went under the unit.”
As McLennan completes another Level 4 inspection on a compliant vehicle, he said he doesn’t expect this year’s Operation Air Brake statistics to differ much from recent years.
“I don’t think the drivers expect their brakes to be out of adjustment because that number (the 17 to 22 per cent out-of-service rate) consistently happens,” he says. However, he’s a glass half-full kinda guy.
“If you want to flip that number over, that means more than 80 per cent were not out-of-service.”