Catastrophic Accidents Produce Major Consequences

THE CONSEQUENCES from a tank trailer or tank truck rollover can be a major catastrophe for the public and the company, as all carriers know. People may be injured or killed, vehicles damaged or destroyed, highway infrastructure shut down, and cargo ruined. But good driver training programs can greatly reduce those risks, said Steve Niswander, vice-president for safety and compliance at Groendyke Transport Inc, Enid, Oklahoma.

Niswander discussed rollovers and other accidents at the National Tank Truck Carriers Safety Council seminar held in St Petersburg, Florida, April 13-15.

"Speed is the major cause of rollovers," he said. "The vehicles can't accept an abrupt turn." However, rollovers generally are prevented if drivers understand the physics involved, including the gravitation pull on the vehicles. Tractors and tank trailers are higher than they are wide, so they are more likely to tip over than an automobile. Even at slow speeds, steering corrections are more difficult with the taller vehicles.

Niswander recommended that drivers learn to reduce speed in turns by removing the foot from the accelerator, rather than slamming on the brakes, in order to make a controlled turn correction. If high winds are affecting stability, drivers should adjust the vehicle's speed or get off the road, based on the wind's velocity. Tires should be properly inflated.

"We drive by what feels right," he noted. However, instinct can be deceiving. Today's luxury tractors have increased insulation so that sounds from the engine and shifting gears are dulled, which may confuse drivers. "They should keep an eye on the speedometer so they know the actual speed," he said. In addition, the margin for error expands as drivers become fatigued.

Niswander recommended videos produced by the Driver Institute that can be used in training sessions. They are brief, but effective, and include information on road rage, rollovers, speeding, runs off the road, and sudden lane change to avoid another vehicle.

Frederick Clark, manager of fleet and environmental, health, and safety services at ECS Risk Control, Exton, Pennsylvania, said one out of 10 rollovers ends in a fatality. "Rollovers have steadily increased since 1993," he said. To prevent these accidents, drivers must understand curve radius and movement of product in the tank. Rollover and rear-end crashes are the most costly, financially. Rear-end crashes are additional risks for drivers. Aggressive driving and inadequate space and speed management by the truck driver, coupled with unexpected actions by other drivers, contribute to the problem. Driving risks are exacerbated by road construction.

Congress has authorized $200 billion for highway construction over the next 10 years. "Every driver is going to be challenged with changing road conditions," Clark said.

He suggested that companies take a look at the risks and ask certain questions: What is the risk? What is the fatality potential? In accidents, what are the elements - speed, visibility, same route taken earlier, vehicle performance, other traffic, and fatigue or inattention?

The answers to the questions should be examined in a logical form and then addressed with hands-on involvement, measured accountability, and periodic evaluation.

He pointed out that a safety program should have a central authority.

Accidents appear to occur more often when there is no central authority directing the program.

Training should include observation, evaluation, and follow-up with the trainee. Initial training is usually sufficient but should include observation, documentation, and no use of dangerous shortcuts, such as unqualified trainers.

Trainers should be qualified to evaluate trainees' ability and convey company expectations in all safety procedures. Training programs should be evaluated regularly. They may require updating as operations change. "Support the good things. Make changes where needed," he said.

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