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NO HEADACHE RACK = BIG HEADACHE

March 7, 2014 Leave a comment

My friend Dave Lande #12568 called me yesterday and asked me if I had heard about an accident in Oregon or Washington involving beams going through the cab of a truck. Dave has some wrecker experience in his past: He and I speak often about various cargo securement problems. Sometimes he makes them up just to bug me. Don’t let the “zip code” number fool you. Like many Mercer hands, he is a “repeat offender”…..he used to be #8021. Sometimes the grass is greener, sometimes it’s just more grass and back to the Mercer Family you come. Anyway, he knows how strongly I feel about headache racks and gave me one to check out. So I did.

The accident involved a flatbed with a load of steel channel that had to make a quick stop. The load went through the sleeper and through the right side of the cab and out the windshield. Incredibly, the driver survived. Had the load gone through the left side, the driver’s head could have very likely been lying in the street with the windshield glass. Check it out at: http://www.columbian.com/news/2014/mar/05/steel-beam-tears-through-vancouver-truck-tualatin-/

You know, we always hear the same old line, ” You can’t put a price on a human life.” Well, this driver and the motor carrier he works for both did. At Mercer, that price would be $940. That’s the price of a headache rack, the installation kit and the installation labor. The price goes down about $100 if you install it yourself. That’s the cost that is “saved” when risking a driver’s life in this type of accident. While I don’t know exactly how many pennies I’m worth, I do know that every driver at Mercer is worth considerably more than $940. Considerably more.

The DOT lets you put an extra chain or strap on the front instead of requiring a headache rack. Really? It sure didn’t do much good with steel channel. Here’s a newsflash: It doesn’t work well with I-beams or coils or lumber or poles or pipe, either. It also doesn’t work real well with plywood or trusses. In some forty years in this business I’ve seen all of that stuff go through cabs, and some of it through drivers. These days,you can be labeled unsafe for having a light out, or an oil leak, or a chaffed air line, but you’re safe without a headache rack. That does not make sense to me and it is certainly not how we do business.Here’s some simple Uncle Lennie math: If you amortize the $940.00 over just two loads per week at 50 weeks per year it is an expense of $9.40 per load. Do it for five years and the expense reduces to $3.76 per load. That’s 188 $5 Wendy’s or McDonalds lunches. Weighed against a driver’s life, $940 is about the cheapest insurance you can buy. 

At Mercer, and at most leading open deck carriers, a headache rack is required. Our policy allows only two exceptions: 1) An RGN with a gooseneck or disabled top deck; 2) A custom sleeper with a reinforced back wall for which I have reviewed the shop fabrication diagram. Anyone else running an unprotected cab is subject to immediate termination. It is that important. Each of you is that important. 

We can talk all day about compliance with safety rules and company policies and getting all the details right. All of that is important and it is all part of our job. However, at the end of the day, the most important thing is that we didn’t hurt anybody and that each of you returned home safely to the ones you love.That, my friends, is a good day. Think safe, act safe, be safe. You are the best.

ANOTHER WEEKEND, MORE SNOW

February 14, 2014 Leave a comment

I am sick of winter!!!!! I hate cold and I hate snow! There, now that we’ve cleared that up, we can talk a little bit about it and a few other things……….

Bad weather seems to separate the good drivers from the rookies. I am always amazed, when I am running at a slow crawl in snow or slush with everyone spaced out in the slow lane, that some six week wonder in a big truck goes blowing by at 60, or 70, You know who they are…….everyone sees them jackknifed in the median on the news reports. Ever wonder why trucking has a bad image? Ever wonder what it takes to be so absolutely stupid? Mercer drivers are the best and are expected to be setting the example.

The Mid America Trucking Show here in Louisville is right around the corner. It begins Thursday March 27 and runs through Saturday, March 29. For Mercer drivers, it begins with meetings and food on Wednesday, March 26. Wednesday morning includes the session with the General Management Group. Lunch is provided, and Wednesday afternoon will include three safety seminars on topics of interest. Attendees will receive credit for each seminar they attend. We will again have supper and evening festivities as well. It is always a great time. I enjoy seeing everyone and answering questions. We have enough parking for everyone, so run through for a day or two if you can work it in.

Dale Corum has spearheaded a project to upgrade the Drivers Lounge. Many improvements are planned and work is underway. We are planning on having everything finished by the truck show. Hopefully it will give all of our drivers a better place to relax (and exercise) when they are in Louisvile. If you see Dale or any of the other of the General Managers (Rick Reed, John Fallot, John Eliassen, Joel Franklin) be sure to thank them for this project. It is a very large financial commitment.

As of this writing, no new news on CARB. It is what it is. If you have a non-compliant truck, you have three options: Upgrade, retrofit (or otherwise get compliant), or don’t go to California. Change may come: The OOIDA lawsuit is out there and the CARB board is scheduled to meet in April, but for now, you only have three choices. If you have questions about CARB compliance, get in touch with the guys in Contractor Relations. They are monitoring this stuff daily. Mercer will not dispatch a non-compliant truck to California.

Finally, the fun stuff. A phone upgrade has enabled yours truly to get on Twitter. Beginning next week, followers will see tweets from me concerning what states are writing us up for what, and which states are most likely to stop us, who got clean inspections and who got good road surveys. You may see weather and other info as well. Information I want to get to everyone quickly will get pushed out on Twitter. Please understand that I won’t be able to answer anything most of the time. I can’t spend all day on it. Remember, you’re dealing with an old guy and a new toy, so be patient. If you want to follow along, follow me at @MercerTrans_Len

I hope everyone has a great weekend. Be safe. Read more…

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HOW CAN I LOWER MY SCORE???????

February 29, 2012 1 comment

That’s a question I get from five or six drivers every day. The majority of our folks “get it” about CSA and have adjusted their driving habits accordingly. Unfortunately, we still have a few that think CSA applies to everyone but them. The fact is, CSA is real, it is not going away, and unless you can consistantly get clean inspections you will not survive as a driver. Those who have mastered CSA know that they cannot drive above the posted speed limit (ever), must log legal and current at all times, must secure cargo properly, and must keep up on vehicle maintenance items. Particularly important are brake adjustment, tires, lights and air lines. Bad scores hurt everyone and subject Mercer drivers to more roadside inspections. We have discussed each of the seven BASICs previously. No excuses.

So what happens if you’ve had a bad inspection, or a ticket, or an accident and you’ve run some points up on our system? You can get a handle on your score, there are ways to lower it, but it does require immediate effort and complete commitment to change on your part. Here’s how:

1) Clean inspections. That is key and that is what CSA requires. Whatever is keeping you from getting clean inspections must change. The change must be permanent. Our system gives drivers credit points for clean inspections. Our system is designed to eliminate drivers who can’t get this right;

2) Clean road surveys. I have a service of retired and off-duty police officers who observe and report on our units each month. We look at three shots of speed, three shots of following distance, seat belt use and hands free phone use. Clean road surveys earn drivers credit points. Bad road surveys run up the score. The DOD also road surveys military shipments and they are also scored. Drivers can improve their score here by just doing what they should be doing, driving safely. About forty drivers a month find this out;

3) Additional training/seminars. This year, on Wednesday, March 21, I will conduct three one-hour seminars here at Mercertown. These will start at 1:30 and end in time for everyone to eat at our annual pre-truckshow cookout. All drivers attending these seminars will receive credit points for each;

4) Field Safety Briefings. Every year, beginning in June, I do field LKY inspections at various locations throughout the country. Drivers I inspect also receive various safety material and receive credit points on their scores. Although the exact dates are not yet set, the months and locations are. These are as follows: June, Wichita, KS; July, Stockton, CA; September, Sunbury,PA and Greensburg, PA; October, Arkadelphia, AR and Newberry,SC; November, Tampa, FL. I generally announce the dates of each about one month before the trip;

5) Computerized logs. Although not an EBOR, we have found that drivers who run either Eclipse Logs or Drivers Daily Log on their laptop computers are not having log violations. That is the key to having good CSA scores and this is huge. Because we believe that this is the way drivers should be going, we give credit points to those who run computerized logs. It gets better: Mercer will PAY for the program for any driver who goes to computerized logs by March 31. Yep, we’ll PAY for it. Do it by March 31. For help with this, call Jason, Eric or Gerald in Contractor Relations. Already bought one? Call them about getting reimbursed for that, too. It is important to understand that in the near future I will be requiring repeat log offenders to go to computerized logs to stay at Mercer. That will be at their expense. CSA requires everyone to log legal and current. That is what we will do. Bad habits must change. Drivers who do not share this commitment will not stay at Mercer.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability….CSA. Pay attention to your score. Manage it. Constantly work towards improving it. It can be done. Be safe.

CSA: CRASH

February 8, 2012 1 comment

This is our last BASIC in the CSA series. The CSA Crash BASIC is all about accidents. The score is based upon motor carrier accident “involvement”, not whose fault it was. Hopefully the FMCSA will spend more time looking at fault in the future, but for now motor carriers are stuck with it the way it is. It is important to understand that for an accident to show on CSA it must be a “recordable” accident per 390.5. It must result in a fatality; bodily injury to a person who, as a result of the injury, immediately receives medical treatment away from the scene of the accident; or one more motor vehicles incurring disabling damage as a result of the accident, requring the motor vehicles to be transported away from the scene by a tow truck or other motor vehicle.

Fortunately, we don’t have many accidents at Mercer, compared to our size and the number of miles we run. Most of the accidents at Mercer involve animal strikes or someone else hitting us at a truckstop. Nearly three-fourths of our accidents are non-preventable. That is a credit to all of our drivers’ commitment to keeping the highways safe. Most of these accidents to not meet the “recordable” standard of the FMCSA.

When our drivers do make mistakes and have preventable accidents, they generally fall into two categories: Improper lane change or following too closely. Both usually cause extensive property damage and injury to other motorists. They are difficult and expensive to settle. They can be career-ending for a driver. It is imperative that every driver drives defensively at all times. Don’t speed, don’t tailgate. When a lane change must be made, signal and use extreme caution. Check mirrors often and have enough mirrors to give multiple views down both sides of the truck. Get into the practice of backing off and don’t get caught up in other folk’s driving mistakes. Be patient.

CSA is all about reducing highway injuries and fatalities. In my opinion, at the end of the day, the most important BASIC on CSA is this one. Unsafe motor carriers have large numbers of accidents. Safe motor carriers do not. Mercer drivers are the best and everyone works hard to reduce the number of accidents our company has. I am proud of all of you for the great job you do. Keep up the good work. Be safe.

CSA: CARGO BASIC

February 2, 2012 Leave a comment

Mercer folks, I apologize for not being able to write every day and to respond to some of the great comments and thoughts I’ve seen on the various posts. I appreciate everyone’s input and do read them all. We’ve got folks that really think things out and I value that. My schedule does get kind of crazy sometimes and I can’t talk to everyone. Fortunately, the Mercer Family is a large one. Unfortunately, that means that there is always a lot going on and there aren’t enough hours in the day. It is important, however, that everybody understand CSA and keep it in mind every trip. It is a game changer and it requires greater attention to detail from everyone. As you know, everything counts: tickets, warnings, out of service violations and non-out of service violations. Everything.

By the way, I don’t think I mentioned what BASIC stands for. Here it is, “Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Category.” Wow, can’t government come up with some catchy names? That’s your tax dollars at work. Let’s talk about cargo.

Cargo includes the securement of items being transported. Simple stuff. It includes having the correct paperwork for the load. Hazardous material placarding, paperwork and placement is also included in the Cargo BASIC. If you operate an open deck trailer, you are expected to master cargo securement. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations have specific rules concerning cargo securement. There are no shortcuts. You’ve got to read, and know, the regulations. They start at 393.100 and go through 393.136. Be sure you read the definitions in 393.5, as well. Van people also need to know this stuff.

Usually, when violations occur, it is due to laziness on the part of the driver. Let me repeat that, boys and girls: Usually, when violations occur, it is due to laziness on the part of the driver. I call ’em like I see ’em, guys and that is what I see most of the time. There are things like cut straps, not enough securement for the cargo length, putting one strap on pallets that need two straps, not checking load securement and letting chains or straps get loose, not putting edge protection on straps, using straps instead of chains or chains instead of straps, not having enough working load limit securement for the weight of the cargo. Observable defects. If the officer sees it, it goes on the report and scores the driver, and Mercer, 27-30 points. Improper cargo securement is a big deal under CSA, and it should be. If the load falls off, bad things happen.

The same thing is true about Hazmat. Most of our problems come from having torn placards or having a placard blow off. Are you kidding me? Who lets that happen? I saw one writeup where the driver was being inspected with a hazmat load and was written up for smoking. Really? This is the stuff that isn’t about how evil CSA is. It is just dumb (that’s a trucking term, it means, “DUMB”). I hear a lot of comments about CSA putting people out of business. And yes, I think everyone will tell you that there are problems with CSA, including the FMCSA. But proper cargo securement has been a requirement in this industry long before CSA. If you do not secure cargo properly, you’ll put yourself out of business. CSA just makes it happen quicker.

Good cargo securement is one part knowledge of the regulations, one part experience, and a big dose of common sense. But you’ve got to have all three to get it right. There are no shortcuts in securing your freight. Take the time to do it right. Ask if you’re not sure. This is important stuff. Be safe.

CSA: VEHICLE MAINTENANCE BASIC

January 27, 2012 4 comments

As everyone has already figured out, vehicle maintenance refers to the condition and upkeep of the tractor and trailer. It covers all items covered in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Nothing to it, right? Sure, except under the old SafeStat system, folks were more concerned about out of service violations as opposed to ALL violations. Under CSA EVERYTHING counts, and some count quite a few points.

For example, a tire under 2/32’s is 24 points. If it’s under 50% inflated, 24 points, 30 points if it’s out of service. A headlight? Glad you asked…..18 points, thank you very much. Brake out of adjustment, 12 points, plus another 12 points in most states for a defective slack adjuster. There are points charged for defective or unmounted fire extinguishers, no windshield washer fluid, no warning triangles, inoperative ABS check light on trailer, chaffed air lines (particularly on a back deck of the tractor), no tractor backup light(s), no city horn, missing retroreflective tape on rear of cab or top of tractor mudflaps or on trailer, any air leak, frayed fan belts, tinted windows, straight pipes, cracked windshield, exhaust leak, mismatched brake chambers, cracked brake shoes, extended cab visors, non-functioning lights, non-functioning low air warning devices(must have both if originally equipped), no spare fuses, on and on and on and on. Remember, CSA not only includes out of service items but also OBSERVABLE DEFECTS. That means that if the officer sees it, he or she writes it. This pretty much eliminates their ability to give “breaks” even if they might be so inclined.

Most Mercer violations in this BASIC are brakes out of adjustment, tires under 2/32″ and defective lights. Lights are either marker lights out, a burned out headlight, or an unplugged pigtail which leaves the trailer dark. The majority of these violations are written during daylight hours.

Many carriers have discovered that the easy fix for light violations is to run their lights during the daylight hours as well as at night. This is true for three reasons: First, most bulbs burn out, especially headlamps, at the time they are turned on. If you turn them on when you start your day, you’ll catch burned out ones during your pre-trip inspection. Secondly, as you stop for fuel or to do a load check, you will also notice any defective lighting and can make repairs at that point. Finally, if you drop a pigtail for some reason, you’ll notice your trailer lights out before someone with blue lights notices them for you and starts writing a book about it. Chapter one is no taillights, chapter two is no turn signals and chapter three is no brake lights. Three separate sets of CSA points. Running lights during daylight hours also helps to prevent accidents, especially on two-lane roadway. I urge everyone to do that, no matter what type of vehicle they drive.

Brakes need to be checked daily. Not weekly or monthly. Tire air pressure should also be checked daily, as well. Spray off any excess grease and oil from underneath the tractor and trailer. If you have an oil leak, fix it. Leaks score on CSA.

The best thing about being an owner-operator is that you own your own truck. The worst thing about being an owner-operator is that you own your own truck. With freedom comes responsibility. You are in most cases the shop, the shop foreman and the mechanic. Remember that you are held to the same standard as company fleets which are maintained by company or dealer shops and company or dealer mechanics. CSA knows no difference and there are no excuses. The vehicle maintenance BASIC is tough and demands constant attention. If you are not willing to do this, you might be better off in a company fleet as a pumpkin pilot. Owner-operators must walk the talk on vehicle maintenance.

Mercer drivers who get it right get credit for clean inspections. Those who get it wrong eat the points and are required to come to Louisville for reinspection. Folks, this is important stuff. Everyone has to get it right. I can’t stress this enough. Be safe.

CSA: DRUGS AND ALCOHOL BASIC

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

In case there is any doubt, the use or possession of illegal or unauthorized drugs by those in safety sensitive functions is prohibited by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Likewise, the use or possession of alcohol by those in safety sensitive functions is prohibited by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Here’s another: Mercer has a zero tolerance policy for drug and alcohol violations. All of these were in effect long before anyone thought about CSA. I don’t know what else to say.

Under CSA, where all previous carriers’ driver inspections can be accessed by potential future employers, drug and alcohol violations can for all intents and purposes end a driver’s career. Most carriers, including Mercer, will not consider an applicant who has a drug or alcohol violation.

Remember, it is a violation to have alcohol on the truck unless it is cargo run under a bill of lading. It cannot be in cabinets, refrigerators, headache racks or even in tool boxes on the trailer. If a truck is parked for the weekend and the driver is off duty, he is allowed to have alcohol in the berth, but not in the driving compartment. He must be off duty for at least four hours after drinking before driving and all alcohol must be removed from the truck before it moves (49CFR392.5(a)(1)). Alcohol is prohibited on Mercer property at all times for both employees and drivers.

The Drugs and Alcohol BASIC is simple and summed up in one word: Don’t.