Volume 44, Issue 7 - July 2009
Hands on the Wheel
by Megan Headley
Improving safety and preventing litigation surrounding the transportation of glass were among the chief goals of the approximately 20 members of the Flat Glass Logistics Council (FGLC) who met in Chicago at the end of May.
Karl Manrodt, a professor in the in the department of management, marketing and logistics at Georgia Southern University and executive director of the nonprofit corporation, opened the meeting by commenting on the number of issues that carriers face, ranging from need for new equipment and capacity problems to foreign competition and an aging driver population, coupled with the cost of transportation. “Does anyone think it’s going to go down?” Manrodt asked of those costs. “I hate to tell you, but it’s going up
… [we’re] facing a lot of risk, rising fuel prices.”In addition, economist Noël Perry, a former truck driver and loading dock foreman himself, noted during his “May 2009 Transportation Market Outlook” presentation that the transportation industry has actually been in a recession since late 2006. Perry noted that freight growth stops when the GDP is less than 3 percent, so for the transportation industry anything under 3 percent is a recession. While he optimistically predicted a start to the country’s recovery next year, Perry cautioned his audience in the transportation industry that it will take longer yet before the freight industry will see growth.
“You’re going to get profitable on freight before you can profitably sell your used trucks … because there’s such a surplus of used trucks,” Perry added.
With so many challenges facing this industry, the FGLC provided some welcome tips on how to prevent problems arising from litigation and how to focus on safety, among other topics.
Hitt walked his listeners through a case study, and as he discussed the litigation he offered some advice. For starters, he advised that if there is an accident, that carriers consider abating their discipline of the driver for a time afterwards until determining if litigation will arise.
“Why do you make preventability determinations?” he asked.
“The usual answer is we have to use it as a manner to control our drivers,
to show we’re paying attention, it’s our way of showing responsibility.
That may play a role in the smaller instances but when you have a major
case, consider holding off for a year, hold off until your lawyer says
it’s okay to make your preventability determination.”
This gives the company time to look into the accident and make a responsible determination of its cause, before determining whether to discipline the driver. “It doesn’t mean you’re not going to fire him, it means you’re going to go about this in a methodical way.”
Regarding safe drivers, the group discussed what the driver should do if the shipper puts something on the truck that he considers unsafe.
“You have to play the squeaky wheel,” Hitt said. However, he added, legally if a driver think he has a safety problem with his cargo, “Then you can’t drive. You can’t.” So if the driver points out a safety issue and then gets behind the wheel without resolution, that’s a big problem for him as well.
Manrodt noted that in the tough glass industry most carriers face extremely high turnover rates, making it difficult to get well-trained individuals carrying glass, which is a particularly difficult material to transport. “It’s a very specialized product that requires a lot more expertise [than one might think] from the driver,” he said. “Most fabricators have no idea.”
Regarding those drivers, Hitt noted that in transportation-related litigation judges are looking at “failure to use due care in selecting the trucker.” When selecting drivers carriers should check that they have a satisfactory rating with SAFER/SafeStat (safety and fitness electronic records system available from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at www.safer.fmcsa.dot.gov) and good references. “If they have a satisfactory rating you’re probably okay on that basis alone, but I’d recommend you also check their references,” Hitt said.
Hitt also noted, though, that these stats were never intended to be for anything other than internal agencies’ use, but now are a “have to” for companies looking to protect themselves.
Christine Greer, corporate logistics manager of Guardian Industries, commented that the SAFER stats are something at which Guardian is now looking.
“If I hire someone, these are the steps I’d have to go through to bullet-proof myself,” Manrodt reminded his listeners.
This question of whether the driver should accept whatever the shipper puts on the truck led to discussion about how some manufacturers will add their own separator pads and extra packs, particularly if transporting thinner glass. This may seem more efficient to the fabricator doing the shipping but may create pressure points leading to cracks.
“If our goal is safety, maybe we should have a standard at the loading point for different sizes of glass,” said Rosaire Bélanger, president of Bélanger Expres.
“Because it is so thin … there are issues with those separator pads,” commented Greer, in explaining why Guardian avoids this particular issue.
Craig Brown of Maverick Transportation noted, “Everyone does something a little different because there’s no standardization of trailers.”
Hitt agreed that problem should be addressed.
And while standardization for improving safety and protecting the industry might be ideal, Hitt summarized that sometimes there are defects in a pack and “things happen and the pack blows out.” Glass is a very difficult material to transport, after all, he added, and sometimes things stuff happen that can’t be prevented—so each party should pay close attention to the many problems that can be prevented.
Disposal Safety Guidelines
When it comes to properly loading glass, one issue carriers face is being able to transport different glass sizes in safe ways that don’t lead to breakage.
“This is something that’s always been an issue with the transportation of glass: step-downs [in sizes],” Lawson said.
The members of the Council follow a “70-percent guideline” as a rule of thumb. The guideline, which Mike Weiss of Maverick Transportation noted was based on statistical failures of glass breakage, shows that if packing different sizes it’s best to have a lite that is 70 percent (or larger) of the size of a lite next to it to prevent breakage.
Lawson stressed that this guidelines really indicates to the shipper and carrier when a load should not be treated as “normal.”
“We’re hiring new drivers all the time,” Weiss pointed out, “and we don’t want someone that’s on their first load want putting a 50- or 60-inch glass next to a 130- or 108-inch glass because that’s where we had our greatest danger.”
If something should happen to a load of glass during the shipping, Lawson also had some advice for disposing of the broken load. He and the other Council members agreed that the best place to handle breakage is at the consignee’s or at the manufacturer’s facility, as those companies will have skilled employees to handle the glass. “They are better equipped to handle breakage,” Lawson said.
The group also agreed that should something happen to a glass load on the road, the driver would be best suited to stop by a nearby manufacturer—whether carrying that company’s glass or not—and request assistance in disposing of it safely.
After all, commented Dave Cobb of Maverick Specialized, “The one message from us is safety first.”
Megan Headley is the editor of USGlass.