Facing the demons

Talking Turkey About Trucking

Sometimes it’s difficult to face reality, to accept there is a problem, and the only one who can fix it is yourself. This is as true in business as it is in life. Often, we know there is something wrong and it is going to get worse, but it is not at crisis point yet, so we put it out of our minds and carry on.


The trucking industry, and those who regulate it, are often guilty of this kind of thinking, allowing small issues to carry on until they are big issues, and then leaving them until they are a crisis. Then the solution is a panic fix, not a well thought out thorough strategy.


This is what has happened with the National Heavy Vehicle Accreditation Scheme. I have been hearing for many years about trucks in a bad state of repair getting away with it because they are accredited under the lax system of allocating auditors. The vast majority of operators were doing the right thing and genuinely doing their utmost to ensure safe trucks on the road, but some, especially those under massive economic pressure, were able to let standards slip and still get the correct piece of paper.


Now the basic problem has been addressed and the new regime for allocating auditors in the NHVAS is in place, with all set to comply by July 2016. Problem solved? Let’s hope so. However, the industry is still having to deal with other fall out from the problem, because it was allowed to reach a crisis point without being addressed.


The draconian attitude of the Roads and Maritime Services in the past year or so can be attributed to the lack of confidence shown in NHVAS. There were other factors, including an opportunity to get some good publicity for the enforcement arm acting tough onto the TV news. All at the expense of a trucking industry unable to police itself.


Perhaps it is time the trucking industry started to be a little more honest with itself and admit not everything in the garden is rosy. Can we honestly identify exactly where there is a potential crisis and try and do something about it before it gets too bad.


It is in the interest of both the operators and the regulators to catch these problems early. A bit of co-operation and trust would go a long way in making life out on the highway a bit safer, easier, and, ultimately, more productive.


There is a drug problem in the trucking industry. We all know there are enough crazies out there to mean there are going to be more events happening which are going to show trucking in a bad light and bring on a clampdown.


There is some drug testing going on and zero tolerance schemes, but they are few and far between. Roadside drug tests catch a few offenders but many, many more are still on the road. Is there any initiative to grab this bull by the horns?


A couple of years ago, I spoke to Don Osterberg who runs Safety and Security for the massive Schneider National fleet in the US. They run tens of thousands of trucks and employ tens of thousands of drivers. They tried a couple of drug testing programs and found them OK, but finally bit the bullet and went to the expense of regular hair follicle testing of all of their drivers.


This kind of test is far more accurate than the saliva swabs we see here, and more expensive. It does give and accurate picture of a driver’s drug taking activities and the Schneider scheme has seen a massive drop in drug taking behaviour in drivers and a real reduction in accidents as a result. This is as a result of one operator taking responsibility for their own actions and doing something about a growing problem, not shying away from responsibilities.


If we are honest with ourselves, there are a number of issues like drug use, which could do with the industry taking the bull by the horns. The question is, are we brave enough to be honest and open enough to face these issues now before another crisis comes along and makes us face reality?