April 9, 2018
By: Jimmie Locklear, Forestry Mutual Insurance Co., Raleigh, North Carolina
This article appeared in the Risk Watch column of the March/April 2018 issue of Timber Harvesting magazine.
After two years of traveling across the country attempting to create a heightened awareness of the difficulties facing the forest industry’s log-chip transportation segment, one thing has become very clear: lots of people still don’t get it. Several years ago, I was a logger and small fleet owner facing some of the challenges log truck owners face today, and I didn’t get it either.
I have compassion for loggers and log truckers and am always willing to take time to hear their concerns. Unfortunately, compassion is not a solution. It’s going to take “straight talk” and corrective action by the entire forest products industry to bring about real improvement in terms of safety, compliance, profitability and sustainability.
Let’s face it, numbers don’t lie and facts do matter. The fact is many insurance companies failed to properly underwrite log truck risk over the last 20 years. Premiums where artificially low largely due to aggressive competition among insurance carriers, and that benefitted loggers and log truckers. Premiums dropped significantly almost every year at renewal for many.
At the same time, claims costs were rising drastically. Increases in truck-trailer values, medical treatment-compensation costs and legal action settlements far overshot expectations. This “shocked” commercial truck insurance carriers, resulting in six continuous years of losses. Many of you may remember the FRAM oil filters commercial slogan of years ago: “You can pay me now, or pay me later.” Well, we are now in the “pay me later” period.
The wood supply chain struggles with various issues, but none are more important than the transportation of raw forest products to mills. Most log, chip and wood fuel consumers evidently continue to receive all they need. I understand the dynamics of supply and demand, but I don’t understand the overall lack of foresight and action by these consumers.
The forest industry must begin addressing the issues: qualified driver shortage, lack of driver training programs and overall weak compliance with regulations by many log truck owners. If these issues are not addressed in a meaningful way, I can assure you insurance premiums will continue to increase rapidly and could threaten wood fiber flow. The problem is much more severe in Southeast, and those doing business there must act immediately.
Transportation problems vary from region to region and from state to state, as do possible solutions. In the upper Midwest, The Michigan Association of Timbermen works closely with the Michigan Center for Truck Safety, a non-profit funded through a grant to the Michigan Trucking Association Education Center. Tom Buckingham, General Manager of the Forest Insurance Center, helps coordinate driver training classes in Michigan and Wisconsin. He states these programs have helped reduce log truck crashes. In the northeast, the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine began a driver training program as part of its Spring Safety Training five years ago. Dana Doran, Executive Director of the PLC, is confident this program has benefited the transportation segment in many ways, including better relations between drivers and state/federal transportation officials.
I am encouraged by these programs and initiatives, but they are few and far between. The forest industry as a whole must address these issues in a serious, consistent way. I firmly believe that incentivizing loggers and truckers who do all the right things would be a big step in the right direction. Let’s face the fact that there is a cost to doing things the right way. This reminds me of the slogan, “if you think safety is costly, try accidents.”
I know to some these requirements seem trivial and pointless, but I can cite several crashes and fatalities that would have been prevented if simple measures had been taken. Some log truck owners contend “we can’t do all that…we can barely make it work now,” and/or “I don’t have the time or I can’t afford to miss a load of wood.” I fully understand how they feel, but complaining will not help move wood fiber safely and efficiently to the mill. My focus has shifted from much-needed driver training to the more important issue of training owners. We must do both, and NOW! Getting owners to do the right thing in driver selection and hiring is critical.
The industry and our livelihoods are at great risk due to the shortage of drivers and the rising cost of insurance. Are you proactive or reactive to changes occurring in the trucking area? If you have to give that question much thought, I recommend that you join and financially support TEAM Safe Trucking. No matter where your company falls in the wood supply chain, your business will be impacted, so ACT NOW!
I strongly suggest that truck owner education and truck driver training programs become mandatory as part of all professional logger programs around the country. So far, there has been a lot of talk but not much action. Solution-oriented initiatives must speed up for the good of the entire industry!
Contact Jimmie Locklear at firstname.lastname@example.org.