Make this a safe heating season

Aug. 1, 2002
IT'S NEARLY that time of year again. Cooler temperatures are on the way for most parts of North America, and the fleets that transport and deliver fuel

IT'S NEARLY that time of year again. Cooler temperatures are on the way for most parts of North America, and the fleets that transport and deliver fuel oil and propane are primed and ready to hit the roads in force.

Now is the ideal time for one final review to make certain that everything is in order to ensure safe, incident-free operations throughout the coming winter. Safety is a factor that simply can't be left to chance. Too much is at stake.

Delivery drivers need special attention. Some have been away from the tankwagons and bobtails since spring. All can benefit from a defensive driving refresher that touches on the challenges of snowy and icy road conditions.

Winter weather adds extra risk to a driving environment that is increasingly challenging. Traffic congestion is intense in many urban areas and is getting worse. Aggressive driving has become a national pastime. Those that aren't driving aggressively are probably talking on a cell phone and are oblivious to what is occurring around them.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) Traffic Study found that poor driving — such as improper lane discipline, failure to yield right-of-way, driving too fast, and operator inattention — by car drivers were to blame in 54% of single car-truck fatal crashes in the United States between 1995 and 1998. The findings have prompted AAA to relaunch its public education campaign to teach car drivers to share the road with trucks.

Some of the most frustrating accidents are those in which the tank truck is struck from the rear in traffic or is hit while parked during a delivery. However, drivers can be taught defensive actions that can minimize the potential for such accidents.

In an effort to stop the rear-end collisions, some petroleum distributors are mounting amber strobe lights on their trucks. They are putting the strobe high on the rear of the tank. Unfortunately, the strobes are illegal in most states, with exceptions being New York and Florida.

However, truck drivers are not wholly blameless. An internal study done by a major petroleum company suggests that certain types of accidents in which tank truck drivers are at fault may be on the rise. These include rollovers.

Speed seems to be the main cause in most of the rollovers, but fatigue may also have been a factor. Other contributors include driver complacency, road conditions, and use of non-preferred routes. Whatever the cause, the numbers suggest that tanker rollovers are trending upward, and this goes for tankwagons and bobtails, as well as transports.

Slips and falls pose a greater risk for those working in snow and ice conditions. The petroleum company internal study shows that distributors are doing a good job of controlling these accidents. Recordable injuries and days away from work both have declined over the past year.

However, more driver awareness is needed to prevent incidents such as product spills at the terminals and bulk plants. The biggest problem seems to be with bottom loading. Drivers are driving away with the loading heads still attached.

The petroleum company study suggests that spills and other incidents rose somewhat from 2000 to 2001 and are a worrisome issue. Of particular concern was an increase in reportable spills — those that must be reported to the government. Rack spills are recordable even if just a drop hits the ground.

Even the smallest fuel oil or propane distributor needs to have a zero accident objective. The key is to ensure that the driver is working in the present at all times and has his mind on the job. Safety refreshers now, and throughout the heating season, offer good ways to keep drivers focused.

About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.