In the past few months, I have received comments and inquiries from all over the U.S. regarding what appears to be stepped-up enforcement of both load securement and vehicle weight rules. It’s not unusual that these topics garner attention from the U.S. Department of Transportation when it comes to carriers, but this recent uptick seems to be for smaller commercial vehicles, mechanics trucks, pressure diggers, and bucket and digger derrick trucks.
Not all utility safety professionals may be up to date on this topic because DOT issues are not front-burner issues. Typically, the human resources department handles a driver’s qualification file and drug testing for the DOT. Drivers at utilities only spend a few hours a week on the road between calls and jobs, idling most of the workday. We recognize that there are utilities with rigorous DOT management programs for equipment and drivers, but generally we find a more lax daily inspection protocol among utilities and contractors than you would find with a carrier. That might be justified considering the time a utility truck spends in transit compared to a carrier that is preparing to put a rig on the road with two drivers for 20 hours a day over the next two weeks. But it’s not the rule, and mistakes or latitude over trucks can suddenly become a serious liability when one of those overlooked trucks loses a steering link as it is driven through a school zone full of first-graders.
Craft Worker Compliance
Recently there have not been any changes of note in the rules for vehicle weight and load securement; however, it appears that some of the latitude taken by utilities, if not given by the DOT, has caught the attention of those responsible for enforcement of the rules.
In the last couple of years, state enforcement agencies used local media to inform local commercial businesses – that are not carriers – that they would be stopped if they did not appear to comply with loading and marking standards for their class of vehicles. In Arizona, New Mexico, Washington and Colorado, my colleagues and I began to hear of roadside stops involving lawn maintenance companies and small construction concerns that were pulling dual-axle, 5-ton trailers behind a Ford F-350, carrying loaders, backhoes and super lawn machines. That soon extended to power company trucks, especially those loaded with large wire reels. I even heard of one instance in which state enforcement set up scales in a shopping center parking lot on a well-known route out of a power company service center. Within 40 minutes they cited 22 vehicles for being overweight. You would think drivers would have warned others, but the DOT waved them into the parking area before they started weighing and inspecting the vehicles, so no one knew what to expect. It shouldn’t have been – but it was – a big surprise for that utility’s fleet management to learn what kind of loads lineworkers were putting on those trailers.