Date Posted

July 21, 2022

Dave Elniski
AMTA Industry Advisor, Safety & Compliance

This article has been accepted for publication by Western Canada Highway News; their digital editions can be accessed at this link.

There is a feel that I get during the fall that I can trace back to my elementary school days. It’s a nice feeling, but it is also a longing feeling, sort of like a nostalgia that comes flooding in all at once.  I’d call it a foggy fall feeling if I had to name it.  Nostalgia can hit me at any time, but this feeling is tied to autumn.

Flat-bedding is hard work, and fall is a tremendous relief from the harsh heat of summer when you have to strap and tarp loads.  The first vapour clouds from an exhale, the first donning of a work jacket, and the first snow seen on high peaks from highways below all serve as welcome signs of a pleasantness to come at the end of a hot summer.-

I was much more connected to the changing of the seasons when I was a full-time flatbed trucker.  There wasn’t a way not to be; I spent several hours most days working alongside either a 53’ highboy or set of super-b decks.  Outdoor conditions varied dramatically, sometimes even over a single shift – consistency and predictability aren’t qualities of Western Canadian weather.

Truckers face serious risk from exposure to the elements, and they often face this risk alone.  In addition to weather, truckers face psychosocial hazards from witnessing traffic collisions, managing stress and pressure, and dealing with accumulated fatigue – again, often alone.  All categories of workplace hazards can be found in the trucking industry and the risk they pose to workers is compounded by the trading of typical workplace amenities for isolation.

Carriers often focus most of their safety-related efforts on managing the hazards related to driving.  On the face of it, this makes sense: driving is a dangerous task and safe driving performance generally means reduced insurance premiums, maintenance costs, and downtime.  What focusing strictly on driving does not do, though, is address the many occupational non-driving hazards truckers face each shift.

In Canada, on-road carrier safety programs must comply with the carrier’s base province’s transportation safety legislation which is based upon the National Safety Code (NSC) standards.  NSC provides a framework for highway transportation safety in Canada so that roadways are safe for all users.  It is this type of safety program carriers often prioritise.

While NSC is a robust highway carrier safety framework, it does little to address the safety of drivers and other carrier staff when the truck stops rolling.  This isn’t a program failure; it’s simply the result of focus.

NSC focuses on keeping highway users safe.  Highways are shared spaces and the pursuit of profit can push a carrier to act recklessly.  NSC components like hours of service, cargo securement, and vehicle inspections work in harmony to prevent driver and vehicle factors from directly causing collisions.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) has a different focus than NSC; it focuses on worker safety regardless of the task a worker is performing.  OHS and NSC at a carrier are aligned when it comes to the act of driving; both would emphasise protecting the carrier’s driver.  Where they differ the most is when the vehicle stops; NSC does not address the non-driving hazards facing truckers I presented at the start of this piece.

A carrier must not neglect the OHS part of their safety program.  The regulatory bodies and legislation that direct and enforce NSC and OHS are unfortunately segregated, so a carrier can easily get the impression they are a “safe” company from things like NSC audits and Carrier Profiles without actually protecting their workers with an OHS system.  On the flip side, this would be like a construction company with a great OHS system operating a fleet of trucks without running logbooks and having driver files.  Safety has to be holistic.

Collisions are devastating.  So are career-accumulated repetitive strain injuries that force a driver into an early and less-enjoyable retirement.  We can’t put NSC or OHS above the other.  Leaders need to take responsibility for the safety of those they direct instead of chalking up poor safety performance to failures of the individual.

Trucking needs more people, and people like safe working conditions.  To paraphrase a popular expression, I believe if we build integrated OHS and NSC systems into all aspects of our industry, they will come.