By looking after our industry workers’ well-being, truckers can be assisted navigating their way through uncertain times.Dave Elniski
Supply chain issues have dominated logistics-related headlines throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. These headlines often focus on predicted or actual shortages, backlogs of certain commodities, and the effects of bottlenecks in certain areas.
Throughout 2020, trucking was featured prominently in the media for the industry’s role in transporting essential goods throughout our country. As many people were forced to isolate and restrict their travels, truck drivers continued to work to keep the economy going.
Truck drivers and their carriers are still working as hard as ever. If, though, during 2020 the trucking industry was hoping that by now their operations would be back to normal, such hopes appear to have been dashed. Pandemic-related restrictions, product shortages, and severe weather events in late 2021 have created an environment where long-term planning is difficult to do.
As 2022 begins, it is worth reminding carriers and truckers alike of what remains certain: the need for clear thinking. When panic-buying occurs in response to constant media barrages about shortages and supply issues, it is difficult for even the most level-headed amongst us to not want to assess our own inventory and wonder if we too should be stocking up. It’s better, after all, to run on the top-half of the tank instead of the bottom-half.
Balancing the need to evaluate options slowly and rationally with the need to respond to changing conditions with flexibility is tough. As we all try to navigate through uncertainty and the daily deluge of information, the bottlenecks we have the most control over are our individual abilities to take in and process information and make informed decisions. Having some basic principles to lean on can help good options stand out to us amongst the mediocre and the bad. The following section will discuss one such principle: getting home in good condition.
Getting home in good condition
Getting home in good condition means more than not having collisions. Of course carriers don’t want collisions, but getting a driver and vehicle home in good condition means both can be depended on for future trips.
Good condition means workers’ mental and physical health is protected, and while jobs in trucking are often demanding, business plans need to be made that take into account the wellbeing of those who must execute the plan. Burning out workers isn’t sustainable.
Using the words “workers” instead of “drivers” in the previous paragraph is intentional, too. Truck drivers have challenging jobs, but the wellbeing of the carrier’s support staff should not go unaddressed. Dispatchers, safety workers, border documentation coordinators, technicians, managers, salespersons: these and any other role within a carrier represent jobs with the potential for high levels of stress. In many companies, roles overlap and a single person may fill multiple positions; clearly such situations have the potential to push people beyond their limits.
Just because the home-at-night workers see their families more often than others doesn’t mean their lives are easy. Going home stressed and worried is not the same as going home in good condition. Going home in good condition means workers and managers alike are able to enjoy their non-working hours and be emotionally available to those they love.
Giving thought to how a carrier’s workers and management can get home in good condition is a way carriers can navigate through future uncertainty. Decision-making that results in the neglect of people’s wellbeing is not sustainable.
Protecting the wellbeing of staff is important no matter what lies ahead. The next section will discuss another element of carrier operations that requires attention regardless of other uncertainties: carrier safety.
Carrier safety in the new year
Specific safety regulations in Canada, the USA, and in individual provinces change regularly. What remains the same, though, is the requirement for safe and compliant operations. Those responsible for carrier safety and compliance who are worried about uncertainty can take some comfort in this: the spirit behind safety regulations is much less likely to change than are the specific details of the regulations.
Consider the hours-of-service regulations, for example. In Canada and the USA, the adoption of electronic logging devices (ELDs) has been a hot issue. While ELDs represent change for many carriers , what hasn’t changed is the spirit behind hours-of-service and ELD rules: carriers and drivers need to work together to protect themselves and the public from dangerously-tired commercial drivers. Hours-of-service rules play a significant role in minimizing the risk from this hazard.
The spirit of the hours-of-service rules isn’t likely to change. Fatigue-related health problems and collisions are always going to be important areas of concerns for trucking employers. Carriers must comply with the regulations; they should also occasionally take a high-level look at how their hours-of-service program is doing in terms of driver wellbeing. It’s taking the time to look at the forest and not just the trees.
The year 2022 will bring all the usual challenges including many we can’t predict now. As carriers respond to these challenges, a high-level examination of the safety-related impacts of business decisions will prove valuable in overall risk reduction and the consideration of driver wellbeing. Compliance is a moving target which we must hit, but safety should, at its roots, be concerned with protecting people. As carriers make their way through uncertain times, they mustn’t lose sight of this.
The demand on trucking companies to haul freight isn’t going away; consumer demand is high, and for many companies it appears as though there are shortages of everything but loads to haul. Uncertainty will present challenges to operations of all sizes.
By keeping the wellbeing of workers and safety in mind when making decisions, carriers will lay the groundwork for sustainable operations in the New Year.
1 – Transport Canada. 2021. “Electronic logging devices.” Accessed November 20th, 2021, https://tc.canada.ca/en/road-transportation/electronic-logging-devices