Hours of Service, Worker Ergonomics Cause Concern for Trucking Industry

July 1, 2000
Despite opposition from the tank truck industry, two federal proposals expected to significantly impact carriers are likely to become rules by the end

Despite opposition from the tank truck industry, two federal proposals expected to significantly impact carriers are likely to become rules by the end of 2000, according to industry and government officials. Gaining momentum are proposals to change the hours-of-service rule for commercial truck drivers and to require companies to develop employee ergonomics programs.

Representatives from government and the transportation sector discussed the issues May 16 and 17 at the National Tank Truck Carriers annual conference in Chicago, Illinois.

The president of Volvo Trucks of North America urged carriers in the tank truck industry to submit comments on the proposal to reform the hours-of-service rule. Arguing against the proposal will be difficult because the plan is intended to improve highway safety, said Marc Gustafson, Volvo president. He suggested carriers become involved with industry associations that interact with government agencies.

"We must all work diligently to adopt rules that are the best, but also economically feasible for the industry and the public," he said.

He recommended that carriers submit comments to the Department of Transportation (DOT) containing information about how the new hours proposal would affect their businesses. The deadline for submitting comments is July 31.

Government Comments Also commenting on the issues were Julie Cirillo, then FMCSA acting deputy administrator and now acting chief safety officer, and Stuart Flatow, OSHA safety policy director for the American Trucking Associations.

"It (the hours-of-service rule) is a proposal based on the best data collected over a period of time," Cirillo said. The change will be the first in 63 years and comes after 150 studies were reviewed.

Cirillo urged carriers to offer alternatives or ways to improve the proposal and submit them to DOT before the deadline. "We value partnerships with the industry," she said. "We need ideas and concepts from industry."

The hours-of-service proposal is based on a 24-hour daily cycle and a seven-day weekly cycle. It requires a period of 10 consecutive hours off duty within each 24-hour cycle, and two hours of additional time off in each 14-hour work period with each 24-hour cycle. The proposal adjusts the work-rest requirements for various types of operations.

The current rule requires that drivers take eight hours of rest after a maximum of 10 hours driving or 15 hours on duty.

Industry spokesmen have argued that if the new proposal goes into effect as it is currently written, a cut of 20% to 30% in driver production can be anticipated. ATA has estimated additional drivers and trucks will be required to support current product movement in the US.

A week after the NTTC meeting, ATA announced that a grassroots campaign to fight the hours-of-service proposal has been organized. Don Schneider, president of Schneider National Inc, and Gerald Detter, president of Con-Way Transportation Services, will serve as the national chairmen of a newly-formed Trucking Executives Leadership Council. Their efforts will be supported by four regional leaders. The organization ultimately will have a designated point-person in each state, according to ATA.

Similar Threat Although the hours-of-service proposal appears critical for the trucking industry, the ergonomics proposal holds a similar threat, said Flatow. "Who's covered - everybody," he said. "OSHA has lost the focus on its mission and has become incredibly politicized. OSHA just doesn't really understand trucking."

OSHA estimates the cost of compliance across the industry would be $203 million per year. ATA's estimate is $6.5 billion.

Industries involved in manufacturing or manual handling operations would be required to develop programs that include management leadership and employee participation, two of six core elements established in the proposal. That is even in the absence of any injuries.

All other sectors of general industry with one or more workers with a covered musculoskeletal disorder will be required to establish a program that includes all six core elements. Core elements include management leadership and employee participation, hazard information and reporting, job hazard analysis and reporting, training, musculoskeletal disorder management, and program evaluation.

For manufacturing and materials handling jobs, companies that have employees with reports of persistent musculoskeletal symptoms will fall under the rule.

Risk Factors On-job risk factors include excessive movement of heavy loads, lifting heavy objects, delivering heavy packages, or pushing heavy carts or pallets. Risk factors also include repetitious functions, such as typing at a keyboard or sorting, awkward postures required in the performance of work, vibrations, static postures, and cold temperatures.

Truck driver risk factors might include vibrations from truck movement and static postures from prolonged time in the seat. To reduce those risks, the employer would have to limit driver time behind the wheel and/or reduce exposure to vibrations via engineering controls.

Flatow pointed out that some of the provisions for the plan may conflict with state worker compensation laws. In addition, where such injuries are not recognized under state worker compensation laws, employers would have to pay 100% of an employee's salary and benefits, including health care costs for work-related musculoskeletal conditions for up to six months.

Further concerns have been expressed because the proposal does not specifically define work-relatedness. The proposal claims that any physical work activities that are reasonably likely to cause or contribute to a reported musculoskeletal condition would be covered.

Those conditions and activities must be a core element of the employee's job. However, for manufacturing and materials handling jobs, employer obligations under the standard would be triggered merely by showing subjective symptoms.

The use of terms, "reasonably likely" and "contribute," creates some uncertainty as to whether or not the injury is truly work-related, he said.

In subsequent action on the issue, the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has voted to prevent funding for the proposal. Attached to a spending bill, the amendment will be considered in the House and Senate. Should the amendment reach the White House in the spending bill, it is expected the bill would be vetoed.