Trucking’s Costly Shortcuts

  • Date: 22/11/2013

Mike Yarwood, TT Club's Claims Executive examines some of the dangerous shortcuts that employees at road haulage companies sometimes take, often when they are under the misguided impression that their time or effort can be saved.  Hauliers are finding that there can be damaging and costly consequences.

Hopefully anyone involved in today’s road haulage sector - drivers, dispatchers, warehouse staff and managers - will be familiar with the principles of ‘risk assessment’ and ‘safe working practices’.  Unfortunately, many also know of the existence of potential short cuts which may allow them to perform their roles with greater ease. 

At TT Club, we see the damaging results of such short-cuts in the form of claims for property and vehicle damage, theft and cargo loss and sadly, on occasion, bodily injury. When performing the task in hand the consequences, of what seem to be inane everyday actions, are rarely contemplated. With a better understanding of these consequences, good management practices, a motivated workforce and sensible practical training, many of these claims could be reduced or eliminated.

TT Claims Experience

The findings of TT Club’s analysis of its own historical claims experience has found that nearly half of all operational incidents are as a result of systems and processes errors.  In the main these can be attributed to behavioural issues and human error; either a misguided action during the course of an operation or the lack of proper training or managerial guidance and monitoring.

Short cuts during trailer coupling

A typical scenario might occur during a trailer coupling procedure when the driver either forgets or, more worryingly, consciously chooses not to apply the vehicle hand brake. When the air line between the trailer and the tractor unit is attached, the air within the brake system on the trailer is released and any slight gradient on the yard surface will cause the rig to roll away out of control. In many cases, claims investigations conclude that the driver felt that he was saving time by not applying the brake or turning the engine off whilst coupling.

The resultant costs both financial and in human terms can be dramatic and serve to demonstrate the necessity to follow sound procedures.  In a recently concluded case an employee had failed to apply the handbrake on his tractor unit when coupling it to a trailer. He suffered fatal crush injuries to his chest as a result of attempting to re-enter his tractor unit as it rolled out of control. The employer was subsequently fined by the national safety enforcement agency some USD450,000 for breaches under the relevant Health and Safety legislation. The company should have provided a greater degree of formal training to, and ongoing monitoring of, their employees to ensure that best practices were in place and being adhered to. The company should also have highlighted to its employees that a 44-tonne rig moving at even very slow speeds can cause devastating damage and takes a surprising amount of time to stop.

There are of course preventative measures available, such as anti-roll humps in the yard area to provide resistance and visual or audible alarms in the cab warning that the handbrake is not applied. The latter however still requires the driver to follow procedures to be effective.  The adherence to strict coupling procedures is key, including effective management to provide and enforce such procedures, good training to communicate them, and a motivated and willing workforce to enact them.

Overnight parking

Another shortcut, perceived perhaps as saving money, concerns overnight parking in inappropriate locations instead of a secure truck stop. The cost of parking in England can be in the region of USD40 per vehicle per night.  For a driver requiring the use of such facilities for several nights during a transit period, it would not be unusual for such costs to exceed USD160.  For a subcontracted driver with tight margins – who may be three or four links down the contractual chain – this is a cost which will often simply not be met.

The result is a high incidence of cargo theft from vehicles parked overnight at the road side or other unsecure parking areas.  A recent TT Club case saw USD500,000 worth of metal ingots stolen from an unmanned vehicle. In certain jurisdictions driver negligence may result in the contractually responsible haulier being liable in full, but not necessarily with full or straight-forward recourse against the custodial subcontractor.

Thefts often involve high value cargo, putting the actual carrier’s business in jeopardy and, in some instances, resulting in a declaration of insolvency in order to avoid the claim. There is also an increasing issue experienced, especially in Eastern European countries, whereby the insurance coverage that the haulier purchases (if any) is extremely restrictive. Common examples would be exclusions placed on the carriage of certain commodities and the requirement for secure overnight parking. When the actual carrier’s insurer does not respond, you may be left to attempt recovery from the haulier themselves, which can prove difficult in certain jurisdictions.

Whilst challenging, solutions do exist. Hauliers can open accounts with secure truck stops in order to avoid giving drivers cash advances and encourage secure practices. A robust approved subcontractor selection process and the effective enforcement of contractual clauses restricting further subcontracting may also be of assistance.  The effective implementation of such a policy, even (and particularly) at times when time-sensitive moves are being arranged, is often challenging for an operator, who might find himself employing a subcontractor which is some four or five ‘hand-offs’ down the chain.  However, a careful procedure, well implemented is fundamental in reducing the risks associated with the use of sub-contractors.

Most risk mitigation policies involve extra costs which will ultimately need to be built into haulage rates and it is well-documented that these are already squeezed hard.

Poor packing and securing

A large number of shortcuts involve the improper packing and securing of cargo in transport units. Claims have been seen from warehouse staff taking short-cuts when stuffing a container or trailer, often due to pressure of time.  The potential saving is perhaps a few minutes by not planning the load, placing insufficient dunnage or strapping at the rear of the load or packing the cargo in an incorrect configuration. Claims have included over-turned vehicles both on the public highway and at ports as a result of unbalanced containers.
Practical examples of such ‘bad-practices’ are numerous and of a wide variety.  Often those involved in packing trailers, containers, swap bodies and even railcars struggle to get a heavy item loaded and then believe that it will never move in the unit during transit.  Even if they consider it might move, they believe ‘surely that 25 mm piece of chocking will stop it’.  Additionally, many also believe that placing a heavy load near the door will make it easier to get it out again, without thinking of the consequences of such an uneven weight distribution in the unit once it is in motion. 

Again, there are examples of large diameter and, therefore, heavy steel coils placed on the floor of a unit.  Knowing that the coils might be susceptible to rolling, the packers nailed insubstantial 50 x 50 mm battens in front and behind.  Such woefully inadequate blocking and bracing is all too common. 

Equally, cargoes covering the majority of the floor of a trailer are often not tied-off or sufficient dunnage utilised in the belief that, since there are few gaps, the load will not move or at least not by much. As a result of such practices, we see heavy cargo items or stacks of pallets breaking through the sides of a unit, collapsing on themselves or shifting sufficiently to cause the rig to overturn. 

In similar cases the unit’s doors can often be used as a cargo securing device, forcing them shut in order to hold the load in place.  This practice can have disastrous consequences for workers at the cargoes destination who unwittingly open the doors to be met by the cascading contents. TT Club have also received injury claims when drivers or unloading personnel have been struck by several hundred kilos of falling cargo that has shifted in transit; it is always recommended to opening the rear doors in a guarded manner.

The TT Club is aiming to assist the industry in this regard and has commissioned Exis Technologies to develop CTUpack e-learning™.  This is an online training tool for those involved in the packing and unpacking of CTUs – cargo transport units, including road-going trailers, railwagons and maritime containers.  The CTUpack e-learning™ course is aligned with the current IMO/ILO/UN ECE* Guidelines for packing CTUs.  Beginning with the foundation course, which will be available early next year, it will comprise modules (that include topics such as ‘cargo’ or ‘transport’) and elements (the equivalent of lessons – covering areas like ‘forces and stresses’).  In the future the course will evolve to reflect developments and updates, such as the proposed Code of Practice for Packing CTUs being prepared for the same three UN bodies, and there is scope for additional modules to incorporate special cargoes and more advanced training elements.

CTUpack e-learning™ follows the well established IMDG Code e-learning training course from Exis, which is also sponsored by TT Club.  Both courses are relevant to the risk management approach that the Club has always fostered within the global freight transport community and both organisations hope they can focus industry attention on the significant and dangerous implications of bad packing and the training required to address the problem. 

Effective training

The primary lesson to be learnt is the effective training of haulage and warehouse staff. This should not be limited to a classroom type exercise. It is essential that the training is also of a practical nature with the consequences of short-cutting clearly explained.  Compliance with good practice procedures needs to be constantly monitored but, above all, staff should be correctly incentivised and motivated to do ‘the right thing’ the correct way and not be tempted to take short-cuts

*International Labour Organization/International Maritime Organization/United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Article published in ITM, December 2013

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