Through out the U. S. trucking industry, safety is the word that continues to draw attention as the top priority for motor carriers. The FMCSA is responsible for establishing the safety guidelines that all trucking companies must follow.
Due to these motor carrier safety guidelines, companies are required to have a safety department in place. However, simply requiring a trucking company to have a safety department does not mean that the rules are always followed. In fact, most often in the trucking industry, you will find that the established safety department within the company’s structure is purely in name only.
As one example, under FMCSA Part §392.3, regarding Ill or fatigued operator, it states:
“No driver shall operate a commercial motor vehicle, and a motor carrier shall not require or permit a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle, while the driver’s ability or alertness is so impaired, or so likely to become impaired, through fatigue, illness, or any other cause, as to make it unsafe for him/her to begin or continue to operate the commercial motor vehicle.”
It offers interpretation by stating:
“. . . no person shall discharge, discipline, or in any manner discriminate against an employee with respect to the employee’s compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment for refusing to operate a vehicle when such operation constitutes a violation of any Federal rule, regulation, standard, or order applicable to Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) safety.”
This is a direct rule established by the FMCSA in which all trucking companies must abide by and yet, drivers are forced to drive by many motor carriers when faced with fatigue and if they refuse, they are often retaliated against through false DAC reporting or punished by a cut in pay potential with a loss of miles. Those with the power to do this, comes from the load planner or dispatch departments. In this type of situation, you would imagine that the driver could go to the company safety department and receive support. For most, this is not the case.
The dispatch and safety departments should be in direct opposition of each other, with the safety department having the safety of the driver and company as their number one priority. The driver is caught in the middle of a cat and mouse game. Too often, the driver will advise dispatch that they are too tired to make the run, yet dispatch will continue to push the driver in transporting the load because it is a “hot” load. Should the driver have an accident or receive a violation from DOT while making the run, the driver will be held accountable.
The driver then goes to safety and explains the situation and safety tells him or her that they “shouldn’t have taken the load.” The driver will then tell dispatch and explain the situation and dispatch will say that “you shouldn’t have taken the load.” It is a no-win situation for the professional truck driver and the safety department does nothing to correct these types of situations from ever occurring again. The safety department completely understands that if a driver refuses to operate the CMV, rightfully so, that he or she could face wage retaliation from the dispatch department, such as a cut in miles or being forced to sit for three days because suddenly, “freight is slow.” This is just one example as to why, for many trucking companies, the Safety Department is in name only.
Let’s look at another example:
This one has to do with the FMCSA rule that all drivers know: 49 CFR Part 395 . . . the hours of service rule. For now, the 14-Hour Limit clearly states that a driver “may not drive beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.” Every day, drivers are pushed further and harder, still driving at the 15th and 16th hours. If the driver has the courage to report this to dispatch, they are usually asked, “Can you fudge your logs a little bit?” Bringing it to the attention of the safety department, they are told, “yea we do not want you doing this.” Yet, the next day . . . it happens all over again. Nothing changes because most motor carrier’s safety departments are in name only and they are simply there because the FMCSA says they must be.
The little game that goes on between the professional CDL truck driver, dispatch and the so-called safety departments is one that the FMCSA finds easy to ignore. For them, they have done their job . . . they have enacted safety standards and rules that all motor carriers must have in place. This is where the problem lies . . . the standards may be in place, but the actual enforcement in regards to a driver’s safety continues to go ignored.
Furthermore, even though FMCSA regulations point out that in such cases a driver may “submit a signed complaint to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration”, the majority of drivers will fail to do so because they live in reality. They understand that doing so will most likely end their careers.
They understand that in the large majority of the cases, a trucking company’s safety department is just in name only.
© 2011, Allen Smith. All rights reserved.