Posts Tagged ‘HazMat’

How Much is Too Much?

November 25, 2010

Photo by MyLifeStory via Flickr

I’m fixing to kill two birds with one stone. As if I could even hit one bird with a stone, let alone two. Heck. I once missed a squirrel from 20 feet with a 12-gauge shotgun. Seriously. I’ve got no hope with a freakin’ stone.

Any-who, for those of you who don’t know, the carrier I drive for has made a lot of changes to company policy lately. I’ve been rather vocal about these changes, both online and off. This prompted me to write a letter to the head of our safety department. Not an e-mail, an actual letter; with a stamp and everything. Perhaps I should address it with giant block letters, that way it will for sure get noticed. Nah. I don’t want to have the HazMat folks evacuating the building.

I’ve decided to post this letter on the blog because it speaks to a subject that every driver has to face. What exactly are you willing to give up in order to get something else? Maybe it’s a nicer truck or the opportunity to be home more often? In my case, it’s higher pay that causes me to make sacrifices. But where do you draw the line? How much is too much?

Also, this letter will show you hot-headed drivers how to write a respectful letter to an employer, a government official, or a retailer who has given you bad service. Not that I’m an expert on the subject, but I know that some of you psychotic drivers out there think everything can be solved by cramming your fist down someone’s esophagus. While that’s a temptation we all want to give in to, a little respect goes a long way. So here goes.

The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Also the company name, the address, and the pay rates. And before anyone asks, I’ll say it again. I DO NOT reveal the name of my company. This is to insure that my butt keeps it’s job. Also, the formatting of the address looks funky on here. I assure you that it looks beau-tee-ful on the actual letter.

November 24, 2010

Mr. Q.B. Cull

Turtle Trucking

10-4 Drive

Freightville, Hawaii

Dear Mr. Cull,

I trust that I have sent this to the appropriate party. If not, please pass it on to the correct individual or department.

In light of some of Turtle Trucking’s recent decisions (and some older ones), I felt the need to voice my opinion. According to many of the other company drivers that I’ve spoken with, I’m positive that I’m not the only one who is concerned.

We all know that Turtle Trucking charges its customers a premium price for excellent service. According to the company line, none of this is possible without top-of-the-line drivers. I fear that these policies are going to start affecting the quality of drivers that are attracted to Turtle Trucking.

I don’t actively recruit drivers, but I have plenty of them ask me about the company. The first thing they ask is if the 3 cents per mile is true. I have to tell them that pay rate was before the bad economy hit, and that it’s now 2 cents. Still, I assure them that the money and the miles are there to be had.

Next, they ask me how I like the company. I tell them that the company is efficient and the money is great, but that they will have to make some sacrifices for it. The first thing I mention is that no inverters are allowed in the truck. They always ask about the cigarette lighter kind, to which I say no. 9 times out of 10, they walk away.

If that didn’t scare them off, they usually say, “That’s okay, I’ve got one of those cooking devices that plugs into a cigarette lighter.” Now I have to tell them that they can’t have those either. I’d be willing to bet that they’ll walk off too. Every Turtle Trucking driver I’ve spoken with is livid about this new rule.

Drivers only have a few things that make their life on the road bearable: a paycheck on Friday, a hot shower, and a hot meal. Turtle Trucking pays more than most carriers, but now if I want a hot meal I have to spend that hard-earned money to eat in restaurants. If the health and efficiency of the driver is truly a concern for Turtle Trucking, this can’t be a good thing. Not to mention, hot meals cooked in the truck are $2-3, and the cheapest you can walk out of a truck stop restaurant is $10.

I spoke with a couple of 10+ year Turtle Trucking drivers and some maintenance personnel about the inverter issue. It seems that they were banned after a couple of drivers misused their inverters, which caused their trucks to catch fire. I can only assume that some drivers recently showed poor judgment using their cooking devices too.

It’s disturbing to me that a few drivers with poor judgment can affect company policy so much. If a driver is found to be an unsafe driver, you don’t put the truck out of commission; you get rid of the driver responsible for the behavior. Why punish all the drivers who still use common sense? Clearly, these devices couldn’t be sold if they were unsafe to operate. It’s the idiotic driver who is at fault.

Next up: idling. While I personally think the new idling policy is fair, I’ve had many-a-driver walk away when I mention it. Most say it wouldn’t be an issue if we had APU’s, but as you well know, Turtle Trucking hasn’t decided that they’re cost effective yet.

E-logs are another matter. I know every carrier will eventually convert to E-logs, but I also know from talking to drivers that most want to avoid them as long as possible. Therefore, many won’t even be considering Turtle Trucking.

Despite what the company posters say, all the Turtle Trucking drivers that I’ve spoken with don’t like them. At worst, one company driver was going to retire early because of them. At best, the remaining drivers say that they don’t like them, but that they are “tolerable.”

Lastly is the fact that you have to turn your truck in if you’re going to be out of it for more than 3 days. I know it used to be 4 days. One of those 10+ year Turtle Trucking veterans said that it was 5 days a while back. While this rule won’t affect drivers who live near a yard, it will certainly affect those of us who don’t.

In order to keep my truck, I used to be okay with the idea of taking only 4 days vacation instead of 5. Now, if I want a week’s vacation, I’ll have to drop my truck at the Honolulu yard and drive home 7.5 hours. When I’m ready to come back, it’s another 7.5 hours. That’s one full day of my vacation wasted driving to and from a yard. I understand that you need to utilize your trucks, but how can you expect to keep drivers long-term if they can’t make their vacation time worth their while?

To sum up, I, and every other Turtle Trucking driver I’ve spoken with know that we make sacrifices for the higher pay that Turtle Trucking offers. The question is this: In an industry where many carriers are striving to provide better conditions for drivers, how will Turtle Trucking fare when it comes to hiring and retaining quality drivers in the future? And how long before the extra pay isn’t worth it?

Sincerely,

Christopher T. McCann

Okay. Don’t be laughing at the first name. Don’t force me to cram a fist down your esophagus.

I know what some of you are thinking, and you’re probably right. I don’t expect this letter to change any of our company policies, but hey, you never know. The engine with the low dipstick gets the oil. And since I’m so slick… uhhh, wait… or am I the dipstick? Oh, shut up and eat your turkey…Turkey.

*Please leave a comment with your thoughts. And if you can stir up the energy to move your mouse to the top of the post, please give this post a rating.*

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Really? A Good Dispatcher?

November 17, 2010

Photo by mboperator via Flickr

Yes, I know that’s a rather comical statement for us truckers, but hang on and I’ll make my point. But first, let’s start this out by explaining something to my non-trucking readers. You drivers out there can zone out for a second. As if you weren’t doing that already.

When you drive a satellite-equipped truck, here’s the way the dispatching process is supposed to work.

  1. Your satellite unit beeps at you. If your company believes you to be incapable of reading a short message and hitting a few keys while you’re driving, then you pull over. If they actually treat you like a professional, you can do the remaining steps while you drive.
  2. You examine your load information, which includes a load number, the shipper and receiver, their addresses (and sometimes phone number), the pick up and delivery times, possibly some fuel stop and/or routing information, and any additional information you might need, such as pickup and delivery numbers,  weights, piece counts, etc.
  3. If everything you need is included in the message and you have the hours to run the load, you respond with a canned message that says you got the info and you accept the load.
  4. You pick up and deliver on time.
  5. You wait for the next beep.

That’s the way it works if you work for a normal company. Now I swear I’m not going to start another whine-fest, but I’ve got to explain what happened this morning to get to my point.

I had set my PTA (Projected Time Available) for 1:00 p.m. So naturally, I get a beep at 10:30 a.m. I’m not exactly shocked about getting woke up. The message says to call in for a “verbal.”

As long as I can remember, there has always been a need for verbal dispatches. Maybe the load is too complicated for a satellite message. Maybe it requires special instructions; like you have to go to a different location to weigh your empty tractor-trailer before you go into the shipper. Maybe it’s a high-value load. It could be a lot of different things. These loads are fine for verbals. They’re actually appreciated because they shed light on a confusing situation.

However, lately, nearly every load I get requires a verbal dispatch. I don’t know why and according to every one I talk to, they don’t know either. Basically, everyone is just repeating something that someone else has already said, which just so happens to be the exact same information that is included in the satellite dispatch. Take this morning for example.

I call in and my dispatcher tells me where and when the load picks up and delivers, including the extra stop. She tells me to call another phone number. I call that number and the woman tells me the EXACT same information. Then that woman tells me that I need to call yet another number because there is 19 pounds of HazMat on board. That’s hazardous materials for you normal folk.

Okay. First off, 19 pounds isn’t even a reportable quantity. It still has to be listed on the Bill of Lading, but it doesn’t require any other special handling. Secondly, I’ve been hauling HazMat since 1997, so do I really need to be told to keep the papers in the side door or on the seat when I’m not in the vehicle? Thirdly, I’ve been woken up early and told to call three different people. Lastly, I think the stupid beep interrupted an especially interesting dream. I’m assuming that because I woke up grumpy, and frankly, that’s just not like me. Unlike The Evil Overlord and the wrath of her mornings, I usually wake up in a decent mood. Not today. Which brings me back around to the point. Yes, finally. Hush.

When I called the HazMat guy, I said these exact words: “Hi. This is truck #### calling in for a HazMat verbal, because clearly I haven’t learned how to do HazMat loads in the 13 years I’ve had my HazMat endorsement.” Okay. I admit that it was dripping with sarcasm, but it was in no way said with a mean or violent tone. I’d be willing to bet that if he would’ve laughed, I would have too. But that was not to be.

His response? “Do you have a problem.” I said,“Well, yes. This does seem a bit ridiculous, don’t you think?” His reply? “I can always route you to a terminal if you’d like to turn your truck in.” After a moment’s pause of disbelief, I said, “Wow. This company sure has changed for the worse.”

Now I realize that he didn’t deserve my sarcasm, but I didn’t deserve that kind of threat either. That’s like giving your pal a friendly punch in the arm and getting a swift kick to the nuts in return. I think he realized that immediately, because he started explaining that he had a job to do and that he didn’t make the policies. I apologized for the sarcasm, but again explained to him that this kind of nitpicking does nothing to make us drivers feel like the professionals that they claim us to be.

And now to my point. Yes, I know. It’s about freakin’ time. You know, I’m fully aware that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I just prefer to get from point A to point B like an alcoholic wastoid trying to walk a white line on Cops. (sings Bad Boys)

I immediately called my dispatcher to tell her what happened. I explained to her what I had said and how I had said it. Knowing me fairly well, the sarcasm bit didn’t surprise her much. Still, she said that the HazMat guy shouldn’t have said that to me. She said she was going to turn him in, but I asked her to give the guy a break. Who knows what kind of day he was having and our conversation had ended on a friendlier tone. I suppose my forgiving nature might have had something to do with some unnecessary sarcasm, too. Just maybe…

After that, I went into a mini rant about how things are changing at this company and where I thought the company was heading if they continued to treat experienced drivers like 4th graders. Although she’s heard similar rants from me before, she calmly listened, agreed with certain points, and disagreed with other points. By the end of it all, we were laughing as usual. And that, my friends is the key, and the point B at the other end of my oddly shaped line.

Sure, a dispatcher needs to know what they’re doing. They need to know the rules. They need to try to fight to get you pulled off the crappy loads. They need to try to get you home when you requested. But that’s not what makes a great dispatcher. First and foremost, they need to have the ability to listen, understand, and remain calm; even when you aren’t. Some examples? Glad you asked.

  • When the person on the other end of the line is having a hissy fit, they need to understand that life on the road isn’t a picnic. The Bible says, “A soft answer turns away wrath.” It’s true. When she’s calm, it always calms me down. If a dispatcher gets combatative back at you, it’ll only cause things to escalate. My dispatcher is always calm. Even when she’s having a rough day, she always manages to stay cool with me.
  • When you call to inquire why you only got 1500 miles last week, they need to understand that you’re not staying away from your family for weeks at a time just so you can sit at a truck stop while you wait on a load. Not to mention, poor miles make them look bad. My dispatcher comprehends this.
  • When you call complaining about some stupid policy that you both know will never be changed, they need to realize that you just need to blow off some steam. My dispatcher always has an open ear.
  • When you get woken up, causing you to cop an attitude at them or someone else, they need to understand that a trucker’s schedule is as wonky as SpongeBob on a Peyote vision quest. My dispatcher understands that I don’t hold the same hours as she does. She always apologizes when she has to wake me up to pass down the holy orders from the trucking gods.

Now I fully understand that truckers haven’t cornered the market on crappy days. I have no doubt that working in an office must really suck. I know that dispatchers have bad days too. But what a good dispatcher must realize is that at the end of the day, they get to go home and relax, while we’re stuck in our truck waiting for the next beep and our next idiotic verbal dispatch. And we’ve still got a week-and-a-half before we’ll see our family again.

So drivers everywhere, if you’ve got a good dispatcher, hang onto them. Tell them you appreciate the fact that they understand your life on the road. Maybe even get them a gift card this Christmas.

If you’ve got a crappy dispatcher, ask for a new one. And if you can’t seem to get rid of them, I’ll be barreling down I-29 tomorrow. Just bring them out and shove them into my path. That oughta do the trick.

*Please leave a comment and give this post a rating. Feel free to lie and give me 5 stars. ;-)”

Truckers Get Lost: The Do’s and Don’ts of Giving Directions

October 7, 2010

No wonder we get lost…

Truck drivers disagree on lots of things; like whether bathing is necessary or not. But they also agree on many things. For example, no driver will argue when I say that the driving directions our companies provide stink worse than fresh tequila vomit.

The average trucker will drive 120,000 miles per year, so you’d think we’d have this whole navigation thing down, wouldn’t you? Yet we don’t. Well, some of us don’t. So what seems to be the problem? Well, let’s see…

First, I should explain that most drivers receive directions to the customer when we receive our load information. Who’s responsible for supplying that information? Well, the majority of companies that I’ve worked for haven’t had a standard. Maybe that’s part of the problem.

Some companies ask the customers for directions when they book the freight. Other times, they tell the driver to call the customer to get directions. Still, other times, I’ve had dispatchers tell me, “Hold on while I Google it.” Oh boy, this is gonna to be a hoot.

Let me address this Google thing first. While there have been numerous occasions where Google Maps has bailed me out (see Trucking in the Northeast), there have been just as many times where it’s gotten me into trouble. Just the other night, I found myself in a quiet residential area in Rhode Island because my company didn’t have any directions and the customer was closed on Sunday. Well, the neighborhood was quiet before I got there anyway.

The fact is, Google Maps aren’t truck-friendly. It doesn’t know a truck route from a goat path. It doesn’t consider the weight limits of bridges or the height of overpasses. And it certainly doesn’t inform us of HazMat restricted routes. Like I said, Google has gotten me out of a few pinches by simply providing a map of the area I’m in, but it’s anything but perfect for trucks.

You may ask, what about GPS? Even regular GPS units won’t do the trick. If you want all the information relevant to trucks, you’ve got to buy a truck-specific unit. However, having used one before, I have to tell you that I wouldn’t trust one of those any more than a dad would trust his daughter’s date on prom night.

I was talking to a driver trainer the other day who told me he had a student that refused to learn how to read a map. The trainee said he didn’t need it because he was going to get a GPS when he got out of training. First off, this guy would’ve never made it out of training with me. I would’ve sat there like a stone-faced gargoyle when he asked me where to go and where to turn. He would have learned to read a map or found a new instructor. Why? Because map reading and following directions are essential to a truck driver. What happened to this student next is a perfect example of why.

Two weeks later the student got his own truck. He called the trainer and asked how to get to a particular shipper. The trainer said, “Where’s your GPS?” He replied, “Uhhhh… I don’t have it yet.” Frustrated, the trainer said, “Where are you now?” The new driver said, “I’m over at the yard where you dropped me.” To which the trainer said, “Look across the street.”

So, back to our problem. How do we get and give quality directions? Well, we can’t totally control how our company office people handle directions, but we sometimes have a say in the matter. Many carriers will ask the driver to provide them with the directions to the customer once they’ve established a good route in. Once they’re in the system, they send them out to every driver going there in the future. And herein lies my beef. Many truckers are just as bad at giving directions as Googling non-truckers. So here are some do’s and don’ts when supplying directions to your company or any other fellow human being that you don’t completely loathe:

  • Do give enough information to be clear.
  • Don’t give more information than is needed. Is it really necessary that I know that I’m going to pass a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Burger King, a WalMart, and a Long John Silvers? I’d like to deep-fry the drivers who do this.
  • Don’t give directions from your starting point. Not everyone going to Pennsylvania is coming from Oklahoma… freakin’ moron.
  • Do start the directions from the nearest Interstate. Even if the next driver is coming from a different direction, they can look on a map and see how they need to adjust their route. That is, he can if Mr. Know-It-All can read a map.
  • Do give a compass point off the exit ramp or main road. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen something like, “From I-30 take exit 34 and go right.” Great. So if I’m going west, I’ll be heading north; if I were headed east, I’ll be going south. Or will I? What if the exit is a clover leaf to a stop light? Then it’s the exact opposite. See what I mean? You can be much clearer by saying, “From I-30 take exit 34 and go south.”
  • Don’t give the direction you are going on the Interstate unless it’s relevant. For instance, if an exit can only be accessed when going westbound, be sure to say something like, “From I-44 West take exit 15 (Duquesne/Joplin.). No access from I-44 East.”
  • Do give an exit number and the name of the town or street on the exit sign. If you’re not certain of the exit number coming from the other direction, say, “From I-44 West take exit 15 (Duquesne/Joplin). Unsure of exit # from Eastbound.”
  • Do use the term “right” and “left” once you’ve got your bearing off the main road. It sounds too confusing when you say, “Turn south at the exit ramp, go east on Naval Drive, north on Bellydancing Lane, and west on Bellybutton Circle.”
  • Don’t give distances off the main road if it’s fairly close. However, if your next turn is 6 miles down the road, say so. That way, a driver isn’t slowing down at every intersection for the next 6 miles. And all those 4-wheelers can refrain from cussing us for 6 miles.
  • Do provide street names. “Take the second left” just doesn’t cut it. How do you know a new street or two hasn’t gone in? “Take a left on Port-A-Potty Road” is much more precise.
  • Don’t use landmarks that could change. Providing landmarks can be good in the right circumstances. For instance, railroad tracks, bridges or the city hall rarely change, but Hardee’s, stop lights, and gas stations do. Not long ago, I got directions that said, “Turn east onto Route 126 and turn right at the Exxon station.” I happened to remember the customer, which was fortunate since the station had recently changed to a Phillips 66.
  • Don’t be too frugal with your wording. In-cab satellite systems have been in use since the mid 90s, so truckers have been doing the whole text-shortening thing a lot longer than you 4-wheeling punks. Satellite systems usually charge by the character, so truckers were encouraged to use as many abbreviations as possible. Substitutions such as 2 and # were used in place of the words “to” and “number.” I once got directions that said, “Go 4 mile and the customer is on the right.” I went 4 miles. Whoever had typed the directions had substituted the number “4” for the word “for.” Don’t do that. U-turns in a truck just flat-out suck.

Sometimes the directions that we get are perfect. Those have been sent in by yours truly. You’re welcome. Sometimes the directions that we receive aren’t wrong, they’re just extremely vague. One is just as bad as the other. When you’re driving a 70+ foot vehicle, the last thing you need to do is get lost.

So here’s how I plan to solve this problem. As soon as someone is willing to give me a million bucks, a computer programming whiz, and a list of every business in America, I’ll get started making a database that carriers can subscribe to.

On second thought, that sounds like an awful lot of work. What-say we drivers just pull our heads out of our tailpipes and use some common sense when we’re sending in those directions to our companies. And any dispatcher who gives me directions from Google should be coated with BBQ sauce and left in a cannibal-infested desert.

*Please click the “like” button if you enjoyed this post and/or give it a rating. Okay, folks. Tell me what I forgot. What are your suggestions to make directions more clear. Leave a comment for all to see.*

When Planners Don’t

March 18, 2010

To continue from last week; Planners are the big ugly Oz behind the curtain of mystery. If you’ve got a beef about a load you’ve been given, they are completely unattainable. You can’t reach them directly by phone. Your dispatcher won’t transfer you to them. The office receptionist won’t transfer you either.

There is only one way that you can get to these puppet masters. They have to want to talk to you. It just so happens that the only time they choose to lower the veil is when they’ve done something good. One example is when they’ve swapped a couple of loads around, or arranged for you to swap loads so you can get home on time. Or maybe they need some help with a load because another truck has broken down. Basically, in order for them to want to talk to the lowly driver, they either have to be really pleased with themselves, or in a tight pinch where some strategic grovelling is needed.

Now I’m not an unfriendly person by nature, but I really don’t want to speak to ANYONE at my company unless I’m having a problem with something. You send me load information; I’ll run the load. If I need you, I’ll call. If I need my dispatcher, no problem; he’ll answer the phone. Need a HazMat permit for Idaho? The receptionist will patch me right through. Even the CSR’s (Customer Service Representatives) can be reached if I’m having a problem with a shipper or receiver. But the Planners? Oh no, you can’t talk to them! Mere mortals cannot speak to the great gods of confusion.

The Evil Overlord and I recently went through a round of planner-hating, spurring on the title of this post,”When Planners don’t.” As those of you who follow me on twitter know, we recently got a brand-new truck. It had 8.7 miles on it when we got it. Unfortunately, new trucks require some things to be reinstalled. I wasn’t about to tap into the wiring harness to hook up my CB and the company policy was that our inverter (to convert DC power to AC) had to be installed by a company shop. By the time we got to the yard to pick up the new truck, the shop was getting ready to close for the night. Also, our brand-new satellite system wasn’t working. There’s a good start for you.

“When Planners don’t” example number one is on the way. Instead of letting us sit overnight to get our stuff installed, the planners (through our dispatcher, of course), told us to deliver the load we were under the next morning and they would route us back through the yard to get our stuff put in. Knowing planners as we do, we argued, but our dispatcher was only following orders.

After our delivery the next morning, we got sent in the opposite direction from the yard. Again, we called to argue, but our dispatcher couldn’t get the planners to budge. On we went. This is one bad thing about forced dispatch. Had these been safety issues, they would have been forced to get it taken care of. Since it wasn’t, they thought it could wait.

Next example. We were due home in three days and we got sent in the opposite direction from our house. This direction also happened to have a lovely little blizzard on the way. As some of you may recall, this has happened to us a lot this past year, starting at Halloween, when we missed a big shindig we’d been planning with our nephews for nearly three months. That was the first blizzard in the opposite direction from our house. Although you may recall it might have had something to do with greed on my part.

Although we did make it home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, the same thing happened at those holidays too. So by the time this fourth time rolled around, I WENT OFF on my poor dispatcher. He could do nothing but apologize and tell us we had to take the loads. We got home two days late.

Coming back out from the house, we again stressed the need to get to a company shop. Instead, we were sent out west, were we don’t have any shops at all. Finally, we got that load heading back through a shop near Chicago. We asked to stop in, but the planners said that there wasn’t enough time. More arguing and promises to get us back through there, and on we went, steaming out the ears. We did get back through, but again, they said there wasn’t enough time. There were too many important loads. So we passed by again.

Now it comes to a head. We delivered 90 miles from the shop on a Friday afternoon. I asked to deadhead (take an empty trailer) down to the yard, where they said they could get us in immediately. The planners didn’t want to send us there. They kept sending us load after load, which I promptly refused. They hate it when we do that. Good.

In the end, we had to threaten to quit. Even then, they finally gave in too late. The shop would close before we could get there. Having threatened to quit, and gotten permission to finally get the work done, we weren’t about to let them give us more loads through the weekend to keep us rolling, with “promises” to get us back through again.

Now since the shop wouldn’t be open until Monday morning, we went to a nearby truck stop so we would have access to food and showers. We could have gotten showers at the yard if we had went on in, but without an inverter to operate our microwave, we would have been eating Chinese take-out and pizza delivery all weekend. We got to the yard by Monday morning and I was waiting at the shop doors before they even opened.

Now here’s the real kicker. Installing an inverter, a CB, and updating the software in our satellite system was only supposed to take about 3-4 hours tops. That’s why we were so hacked about having to pass up getting it done so many times. The shop foreman told me to wait in my truck and they’d call me shortly. Awesome! I’d be on the road by noon!

However, when I got the call an hour later, they informed me that my transmission had a recall part that needed to be replaced before they could install our stuff. When they saw my expression change, they assured me that the job only took 45 minutes and the dealer where they were sending us had put us on a priority list. So you can guess what happened. Eight hours later we rolled out of the dealer and back to our yard, where, of course, the shop was closed for the night. Nice.

Now it’s Tuesday morning and I’m once again standing at the shop door before the foreman gets there. The truck finally rolls into the shop about 9:00 am. My “3-4 hours of work” was finally done at 5:30, which just so happens to be the time that the shop closes. Well, it took a lot longer than expected, but at least we were ready to roll. CB hooked up? Check. Inverter installed and working? Yup. Satellite system updated. You bet. But the update wasn’t working. Now not only was our GPS not working, but our messaging system wasn’t either. We could live without GPS, but if your messages aren’t working, it’s a royal pain in the sitter.

I jumped out of the truck and ran back inside. Door’s locked. It’s 5:35. After 15 hours of yoga, meditation, a massage, a round of acupuncture, and some weird aroma therapy mask made of llama dung, I was finally able to calm down.

Wednesday morning and those shop guys knew not to jerk me around anymore. It usually doesn’t do any good to get pissy with these people, but sometimes that’s what it takes to be taken seriously. Sometimes nice guys do finish last. Anyway, they replaced the faulty unit and we were ready to go by 9:30 a.m. So now we just needed to get a load and get moving. That shouldn’t be a problem since there was SO MUCH freight that we hadn’t had time in the last three weeks to get our stuff installed. Right? 2.5 hours later, we finally got a load. Where’s all those freakin’ loads now, you jerk-wad Planner?

So that’s what happens, “When Planners don’t.” If they had just planned to let us stop at a shop and get this stuff done when we had our chances, they wouldn’t have lost the use of our truck from Friday morning to Wednesday afternoon. Their greed caused them to lose a truck for 5.5 days, but more importantly for us, it shorted us 5.5 days of driving. That paycheck sucked worse than a vacuum cleaner convention.

I apologize for the 1400+ words rant, but it had to be done. I’m pretty sure my dispatcher was getting tired of hearing it, and I know The Evil Overlord and I are tired of hearing each other whine about it. That leaves whatever sucker has bothered to read this far down.

I promise I’ll have a more upbeat post next time around. Maybe something great will happen soon. Personally, I’m praying for a chance to leave a Planner with a few less teeth to brush. Anyone have their address?

*Yea. Like I’ve got a violent bone in my body. Okay, be sure to leave your thoughts on Planners. Even if you like them and think they’re the greatest people on the planet, well, you’re entitled to your ignorant opinion. HA! Kidding! Be sure to give this post a rating and pass the word to your friends.*

Hauling Hazardous Materials

September 15, 2009

Wow. What a great title. I put soooo much thought into that. Hazardous Materials, or HazMat for short is part of the big, bad, scary side of trucking. Or is it? What are Hazardous Materials, what does it take to haul them, and how dangerous are they?

First, the technical definition. A Hazardous Material is a substance or material which has been determined by the Secretary of Transportation to be capable of posing an unreasonable risk to health, safety, and property when transported in commerce, and which has been so designated. The term includes hazardous substances, hazardous wastes, marine pollutants, and elevated temperature materials.

Now Todd’s special definition. Hazardous Materials are products that are more dangerous to haul than regular freight, but the average driver will probably never notice.

How’s that for short and sweet? Truly, the hardest part about hauling HazMat is getting your HazMat endorsement tacked onto your CDL (Commercial Drivers License). Before 9-11, you could obtain a HazMat endorsement simply by taking a short written test. But in today’s world of terrorist activity, the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA (yes, the same people who confiscate your fingernail clippers at the airport) requires a driver to go through an FBI background check and fingerprinting before you’re able to take the written test.

Other than that, hauling HazMat doesn’t take much extra effort; at least not for the average trucker. You see, most of the really dangerous stuff is hauled by carriers who specialize in that particular hazardous material. Since that’s usually all they haul, those drivers receive specialized training from their company.

So who’s responsible for what? In short, shippers are responsible for packaging and labeling the product, preparing certified shipping papers, providing emergency response information, and supplying the proper placards to the driver. Placards are those pretty little signs that are required on all four sides of the trailer. There are nine classes of HazMat, all of which get their own placard. There are an additional two classes that usually don’t require placards. Here are the classes and a few examples of each class.

  • Class 1: Explosives — e.g. Dynamite, Fireworks, Ammunition: For the pyromaniac in us all
  • Class 2: Gases — e.g. Propane, Oxygen, Helium: Because The Evil Overlord loves to do her balloon voice.
  • Class 3: Flammable and Combustible Liquids — e.g. Gasoline Fuel, Acetone: Vroom, Vroom!
  • Class 4: Flammable Solids — e.g. Matches, Fuses: Because cigarettes are sooooo good for you.
  • Class 5: Oxidizers — e.g. Ammonium Nitrate, Hydrogen Peroxide: Providing teenage girls everywhere with an excuse to be stupid.
  • Class 6: Poisons — e.g. Pesticides, Arsenic: Where would mystery writers be without poisons?
  • Class 7: Radioactives — e.g. Uranium, Plutonium: So Iran can produce “nuclear power plants.”
  • Class 8: Corrosives — e.g. Battery Acid, Hydrochloric Acid: Without acid, there’d be no Joker. Without Joker, there’s no Batman. Without Batman, well that’s just a horrible thought…
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous — e.g. Formaldehyde, Asbestos: Asbestos causes death, which calls for Formaldehyde.
  • ORM-D (other regulated materials-domestic) — e.g. Hair Spray, Charcoal: Because without hair spray the ’80s could have never taken place.
  • Combustible Liquids — e.g. Fuel Oils, Lighter Fluid: Lighting cancer sticks across the globe. Zing! That makes two digs at you smokers.

I won’t go into details on these because it’s nearly as boring as watching a PC boot up. Ooooo. Low blow by the Apple fan boy. If you still want all the gory details, click here. But please, go get some friends afterward.

The carrier’s (the trucking company) responsibility is to double-check the shipper’s paperwork, refuse any improper shipments, and report any accidents or incidents to the proper authorities.

The driver’s responsibility lays in double checking HazMat labels and markings, refusing damaged or incorrect product, putting placards on the trailer, insuring proper blocking and bracing of the product, safely transporting the product, and keeping the shipping papers and emergency response information in the proper place, which is in the driver’s side door or in the driver’s seat when they’re out of the truck. For more details on each parties responsibilities, click here, you glutton for punishment.

Now that may sound like a lot to know and remember, but in reality, average truckers like myself have very little knowledge of specific hazardous materials. There are simply too many different types, guidelines, and combinations to memorize. Instead, we’re issued HazMat guide books by our companies and taught how to use them. So here’s how it actually works.

You arrive at a shipper and they load your trailer. Although the shipper is not officially responsible for loading the trailer, in my 12-year career I’ve never loaded any HazMat and don’t ever expect to. Once loaded, the shipper tells you there is HazMat on the load and supplies you with the correct placards. Before I close my trailer doors, I look inside to make sure that nothing looks like it will move around or fall over. Let me take a tangent here.

Although it is officially my responsibility as the driver, I rarely look to see if the product is marked correctly. For one thing, I can’t open every container or unstack pallets to verify that sort of thing. Secondly, the shipper has given me a certified shipping paper that states that they know what the heck they’re doing. They know far more about this stuff than I do, so I’ll just take their word for it. It would be like questioning your IT guy at work. If the stinking printer starts working, don’t try to verify how it was done. Just give him a manly slap on the buttocks and thank the good Lord above. On second thought, maybe you better leave the butt slapping to the NFL.

Back to the process. After I close my trailer doors, I put the supplied placards on all four sides of the trailer. That is, if they’re required. Loads with very small amounts of certain kinds of HazMat don’t require any placarding. How would I know? Here comes the company supplied HazMat handbook.

Every hazardous material is assigned a number. For instance, paint is UN-1263. That number is required on my shipping papers. I look up that number in my guide book and it tells me what the product is, what type of placards I need (if any), and how to deal with an emergency. What I like to do is put a bookmark in that page and store the book in the driver’s side door alongside the shipping papers. That way everything is in easy reach if something horrible happens.

The actual transporting of the product has a few small hassles. For one, all placarded loads must come to a complete stop before crossing any railroad tracks. So please quit cussing the poor driver who keeps stopping on that back road with a million railroad crossings. An even bigger hassle is routing.

There are many tunnels across this great nation of ours that won’t allow HazMat loads. For instance, I-76 in Pennsylvania has a few and Eisenhower Tunnel just west of Denver on I-70 is a real doozy. Since you can’t take HazMat through Eisenhower, you’re forced to take US 6 over Loveland Pass, which just so happens to be an 11,990-foot-high goat path full of sheer drop-offs and switchbacks that force you to use both lanes. It’s tolerable in decent weather, but I’d rather get rammed in the groin by said goat than drive it with snow on the ground. Been there, done that. Trust me that it will NEVER happen again.

Another issue with routing is with route restrictions. Cities all across America have certain routes that you must take around or through their city. Cops love to issue tickets for ignoring their signs.

These routing problems aren’t much of a problem for an experienced driver. We know where these places are and can usually avoid them quite easily. It’s the newbie driver that has to watch out. If you don’t know about those tunnels in Pennsylvania and Colorado, you could be in for a lot of extra miles trying to find an alternate route.

To sum up, HazMat scares more people than it should. Sure, every now and then we hear about the big HazMat spill that shuts down the highway for hours and hours. I, myself, had one minor HazMat spill which held me up for an entire hour. Accidents happen. However, the vast majority of these HazMat loads get delivered without incident. And many of these HazMat loads just shouldn’t be feared at all. I mean, really. Who could possibly be afraid of a load of hairspray? Although I suppose a hijacking by a spandex-clad ’80s glam metal band might be kinda scary.

*Okay. I’m sure I left out something vital so be sure to leave a comment telling me what an idiot I am. Or if you’ve got your own story about hauling HazMat, tell us all about it. Unless of course it involves having your face burned off by acid or something. I have a hard enough time attracting readers without that mental image.*


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