Moore on Pricing: What is the shipper’s role in driver safety?

By Peter Moore, Adjunct Professor of Supply Chain
March 01, 2014 - LM Editorial

In a recent speech to shippers and carriers, Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), said: “We need a real change in our transportation culture to recognize that safety means more than complying with safety rules. It means changing work/rest schedules that contribute to fatigue.”

In Ferro’s crosshairs—after driver hours-of-service (HOS) rules and electronic logs—is clearly the question of who is responsible for driver delays and the associated fatigue.

As I’ve discussed several times in this column, the shipper needs to ensure that they’re not holding drivers at the origin or destination—or contributing to fatigue by forcing the driver to stand around while they’re loaded or unloaded.

Those issues, says Ferro, are driving the FMCSA toward research “that allows us to better understand the correlation between driver detention and safety outcomes and driver compensation and safety outcomes.” She adds that the FMCSA completed the first phase of its driver detention study and will issue a report soon.

I continue to see bad practices at loading docks and receiving stations at shippers and receivers—apparently so does Ferro and the FMCSA.

Driver detention costs the trucking industry as much as $4 billion a year in lost productivity, according to a 2009 study that was conducted by the Department of Transportation. Drivers measure lost productivity based on the hours spent waiting for trailers to be loaded or unloaded, the lost miles they could have been hauling with freight while waiting, and the money they’re not earning while waiting at a customer’s site.

This lost productivity time has always been a matter of contention between shippers and carriers. Many contracts allow for up to two hours of “free time,” while some older tariffs and contracts show up to four hours.

In driver meetings, carrier management often hears frustrating stories of long waits despite appointment times, an issue that’s likely a contributing factor in driver turnover. In fact, I remember finding a 10-foot circle drawn on the floor of a warehouse and being told that this is where the driver stands while his trailer is loaded—there was no chair or even a post to lean on. This is an extreme example, but one I’ve never forgotten.

Many industry colleagues draw attention to Ferro’s recent statement: “We’re preparing the groundwork for phase two of that detention study that will look more closely at the safety and operational impacts of detention time.” I believe that this broader look at detention will undoubtedly include the shipper’s role.

Shippers have for too long pushed the responsibility of driver safety and productivity solely onto carriers. Shippers already pay dearly in higher rates for driver delays and are possibly going to find themselves regulated in their operations. 

The answer resides in a more proactive approach. 

Shippers and receivers have options for shortening driver down time, and this needs to be a priority in re-engineering warehouse operations. A candid conversation between operations professionals at the shipper and carrier can reveal where costs are most affecting rates as well as the root causes of driver fatigue under their control. 

The bottom line is simple: Improving driver safety as well as the opportunities to drive more will have the side benefit of reducing accidents and driver turnover—and perhaps attract more drivers to the industry.

About the Author

Peter Moore
Adjunct Professor of Supply Chain

Peter Moore is Adjunct Professor of Supply Chain at the University of Denver Daniels School of Business, Program Faculty at the Center for Executive Education at the University of Tennessee, and Adjunct Professor at the University of South Carolina Beaufort. Peter writes from his home in Hilton Head Island, S.C., and can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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