Hazards and Solutions in the Trucking Industry in the U.S.
Fatalities in the trucking industry are high, but there are solutions to the deadly hazards truckers face on the job.
The trucking industry is the backbone of the U.S. economy. The raw materials used to make consumer products, vehicles and building components, the contents of warehouses that supply retail shops - none of them can reach their destination without a fleet of trucks on the road and an army of truckers at the wheel.
While they do important work, these truckers are also at high risk. There are more fatalities in trucking than in any other industry in America.
There are many hazards associated with trucking, but there are measures available to mitigate them. In this article, we'll look at the common risks faced by American truckers and what can be done to improve their safety on the job.
Road Accidents While Traveling Interstate or Intrastate
Vehicle collision is the most prominent hazard associated with trucking.
In the U.S. in 2012, 756 truck drivers lost their lives in work related accidents and more than 65,000 private sector truck drivers were injured in road incidents. Most of the fatalities that occurred on the roads were due to collisions between two or more vehicles, or with an object along the road.
Truckers are experienced and certified professionals, so these accidents can't usually be attributed to clumsiness. But drivers spend hours behind the wheel of a vehicle with a gross weight greater than 10,000 lbs. It doesn't take much to lose control over a rig of that size - in many cases, all it takes is mental or physical discomfort in the driver.
In fact, the cause behind most disastrous truck collisions is dizziness or sleepiness of the driver.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has instituted regulations to minimize fatal truck accidents, particularly regarding the number of consecutive hours truckers can spend on the job.
According to DOT regulations:
- A driver may drive up to a maximum of 11 hours after an off-duty period of at least 10 successive hours
- The driving period of a driver cannot exceed 14 hours after an off-duty period of at least 10 successive hours
- A driver is not allowed to drive after 60 to 70 hours on duty in 7 to 8 sequential days
- After taking rest for 34 or more successive hours, a driver may start a period of 7 to 8 consecutive work days
Moreover, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCA) has recently proposed a new rule named the Safety Fitness determination. Under this rule, commercial trucks would be tested for fitness according to a specified procedure before heading out on the road.
(Learn about 7 Signs of Fatigue and How It Affects the Workplace)
Loading and Unloading Cargo
The truck driver is typically responsible for loading and unloading the vehicle's cargo.
This task carries all the risks typically associated with moving heavy materials, such as lower back injuries from lifting improperly, foot injuries from dropping a loaded box, and slipping or tripping while carrying a load. However, loading or unloading suspension highway trailers significantly increases the risk, since old or damaged trailers cannot bear the load of the powered industrial trucks used to carry heavy items in and out of it. There have been, unfortunately, many cases of workers being crushed by an overturned or fallen forklift in a loading dock.
The most obvious solution is to train workers involved in loading and unloading activities to make sure they understand the hazards involved and how to work safely.
Performing regular inspections and maintenance on lift trucks will make them easier to handle and, as such, reduce the risk of an accident.
Make sure the loading area is tidy (and clean it if it is not) before moving items. Anything that could cause someone to trip or slip should be mopped up or cleared out of the way.
Ensuring that the trailer has the capability to bear the load of powered industrial trucks is also mandatory.
(Learn more in Why Housekeeping Is an Important Part of Loading Dock Safety)
Transportation of Hazardous Material
Transporting chemical or other hazardous materials (HAZMAT) is another big risk for drivers in the trucking industry. All it takes is one small moment of negligence to cause catastrophic damage that can affect hundreds or thousands of lives.
It's essential for truckers to know about the materials they're transporting and the specific hazards that come with them, whether they're flammable, corrosive, toxic, or reactive when in contact with oxygen or other substances.
While some hazards give you time to react and protect yourself, hazardous materials aren't always so forgiving. Even a mild collision involving a vehicle transporting hazardous materials can cause an immediate fire.
Thankfully, there are a number of transportation codes that have been implemented to ensure the safe transport of hazardous materials. For example:
- Responsible Care Distribution Code (CMA 1999), developed by the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA)
- Responsible Distribution Process (NACD 1999), developed by the National Association of Chemical Distributors (NACD)
Adopting strict HAZMAT codes and, of course, following all applicable regulations is an important step to improving the safety of truck drivers.
Truckers should also be trained on various aspects of HAZMAT safety, including:
- The different types of hazards posed by chemical products
- How to read and understand chemical labels
- Emergency procedures in the event of a collision or a spill
They should also be given any PPE they might need to safely handle this cargo, not only under the loading and unloading but also in the event of a spill or an emergency situation. Depending on the materials involved, this could be as simple as chemical-resistant gloves and an N95 respirator, or as elaborate as disposable coveralls with safety goggles and a respirator.