Melodramatic? Perhaps. It’s also a scene that becomes more likely with each passing week given the profile of today’s log hauler and log haul. Discounting the growing number of younger, inexperienced drivers that will need to take over in coming years, just look at the hauls we’re increasingly asking our drivers to do. They are typically getting longer, especially in northern Ontario and Quebec where the easy wood is gone. But elsewhere we are seeing a similar trend, as more sorts and shut mills drive the industry to move raw materials and byproducts farther afield.
A typical haul today may see a driver go 100 km over secondary gravel logging roads – not out of the way tertiary access roads, but well-maintained, wide roads on Crown land, often well used by the public too. After that, his route to the mill may take him over 40 to 80 km of public highways, farther in large parts of central Canada. We’re not talking the Trans-Canada here, but winding, two-lane roads with 80 or 90 km speed limits and a low priority when it comes to salt or sand trucks.
Finally, the log hauler gets to town, and the fun really begins. In a growing number of cases, town has become small city, as the community has grown around the older mills. Think Kelowna, Kamloops, Prince George, Thunder Bay, Timmins, Trois Rivieres, Edmundston, and Corner Brook to name just a few.
Add top-heavy loads that tend to shift, long working hours, vanishing margins, limited scale hours, short haul seasons, and driver shortages in many areas, and you don’t need an actuary to tell you the odds.
If the scene is set for more, and potentially devastating, accidents involving the public, what can we do to stack the odds in our favour? Log trucks need to slow down and drive carefully, I’ve been told by people both inside and out of the industry. I’m neither your priest nor your safety supervisor, so save that one for someone who hasn’t been passed dozens of times by log haulers on the way to the mill near supper time. No, we need something foolproof, and more automated, to remove as much of the human element as possible.
Maybe part of the answer lies in the new and evolving generation of stability control and anti-rollover systems on the market. They are so impressive that anyone who’s tried them in closed-track demos, like our very own Log Haul writer James Menzies, comes away converted. In fact, the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) is now lobbying hard for the technology to become mandatory in all new trucks. Judging from recent history (i.e., speed limiters), what the OTA wants, soon becomes law.
Read James’ report on rollover prevention systems starting on page 22 if you want to see what’s coming down the pipe. But do we really need to wait until we’re told to put them on our trucks? After all, these systems are not prohibitively expensive. On new rigs, you’re talking in the range of $1,700, or as one source James interviews puts it, the price of a chrome bumper.
There are also trailer-based systems that can be retro-fitted to your existing gear. Given how long haulers keep trailers, that may be the way to go. Divide the cost of these systems over the 10-year life of a log trailer, and we’re talking pennies per cubic metre of round wood hauled. Actually, if your drivers slowed down 5 km/hr or so, the fuel savings alone would pay for the technology in a year or so, and your haul would be safer still.
With a little imagination, a little incentive from the mill, and a little honesty about the risks involved, maybe we can get ahead of the curve. And maybe that family can get to the cottage.
Scott Jamieson, Editor
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