Winter has taken hold across much of the U.S., with snowstorms and blizzards lashing out over large areas of the Midwest and Northeast this week. Meanwhile, the weather forecasts are far from rosy, showing no signs of the harsh winter abating for the foreseeable future. In such a scenario, it is critical for fleets to make sure their drivers and loads navigate the highways safely.
FreightWaves spoke with Marilena Acevedo, the vice president of human resources at PetroChoice, to discuss how fleet leadership and drivers can work together to keep drivers and cargo safe during perilous situations created by bad weather.
"There are a few things that we do to keep our drivers safe, and most of it has to do with planning ahead. We make sure that our leadership and drivers work together, plan out the haul usually a couple of days in advance, especially when we have notifications that the weather is going to be bad," said Acevedo.
Being in constant touch with drivers is crucial, because that helps create a good rapport between management and drivers, while the communications can generate assistance during unforeseen incidents. Acevedo remarked that she is in contact with the drivers the night before and sometimes the morning of a trip, depending on weather developments.
"Communication is key, and we keep an open line of communication with all of our drivers. When we are expecting a big storm, our leadership gets involved, and we may start a conversation a few days before to make sure we have a plan in place," she said. "We do not want to be caught in the middle of an event without a plan. Planning is important to make it through a bad storm without too much trouble."
Apart from interim measures and planning a few days ahead, it is essential for fleets to provide their drivers with safety training. Acevedo recommends monthly training, which could be escalated to weekly sessions before the onset of winter.
"Repetition is needed, and it is important to have the safety sessions as frequently as possible. We train drivers through different formats. We may show them a video, make a PowerPoint presentation, or even give quizzes on safety standards to make sure they actually retain this information," explained Acevedo. "The training is to ensure our drivers are aware of weather-related issues. A lot of our drivers are very experienced, but then again, repetition is important."
Another key precautionary measure is to pack essentials like a change of clothing, a blanket, gloves, a flashlight, and water – things that may be needed in the event of an emergency.
During an adverse weather situation, truckers must look to accommodate other motorists on the road and be careful while maneuvering their vehicle. "Drivers also need to know the type of cargo they are carrying, because unsafe driving could shift products inside the trailer, and even cause a roll-over in some cases," Acevedo said. "We tell our drivers to be patient, to take their time and to keep a safe distance from other vehicles."
Acevedo mentioned that it is crucial for drivers to do their pre-checks and that management must make it mandatory for trucks to be inspected before they are driven. "Before they leave the facility, PetroChoice requires that headlights and taillights are working, oil and antifreeze levels are good, tire pressure is okay, fuel levels are good, and the windows are working. Drivers also need to check their paperwork and make sure they have their insurance cards with them in case of an emergency," she explained.
All these steps are critical, because not only do they keep drivers and cargo safe, but also help ensure other motorists on the road get home safely. "The best thing for drivers is to communicate and stay in contact with their fleet manager, safety manager, and branch operations manager. Managers must ensure that all their drivers are properly informed and conduct training based on their location," said Acevedo.
In certain cases, it is better to talk it out with the customers ahead of time and ask them if they are going to be open during a particularly harsh winter day. And if the roads are not passable, it is prudent to let the customers know that the delivery will be late. As Acevedo outlined, "it is important not to have surprises and make sure everybody knows what to expect – and what is expected – in such situations."