It’s my understanding that this has been making its rounds to folks in the trucking industry. Please read:
September 13, 2018.
Last night I tuned in to watch the Humboldt Broncos and their emotional return to the ice. I watched them with pride, but couldn’t help but wonder whose hometown will be the site of the next bus crash.
This being the Broncos first game since the bus crash that claimed the lives of so many young people, the emotion was palpable. In a city that has become accustomed to tears, fans, friends and family, had tissues ready to try to quell the inevitable sniffles and unshakable sorrow. But as the opening ceremonies proceeded one could see and feel the gamut of emotions, from grief and sadness to excitement and hope. The love of the game is evident here. A new season brings new hope for the team and a step in what will likely be a very long healing process, not only for this community but also our province and country. I think most of us can remember the shock and sadness we felt, as reports of what had happened emerged that day. There was even a worldwide response as people from around the globe contributed to the funding, and expressed their condolences to the families.
And while the new season brings hope and excitement in many ways, it’s also a reminder of the sorrow and grief that this tragedy caused. I know my mind kept wandering, and wondering how the victims families are coping? Or how the survivors and their families are coping? How anyone involved in this crash might be coping?
I didn’t personally know any of the people involved in this calamity. But even despite that, it felt like it had happened in my hometown. This tragedy really hit home. For many reasons really, but for me as a mother, lord knows I’ve had fears and reservations about putting my children on a bus everyday. My heart immediately ached for the mamas of those boys. But it also really bothered me because my husband is a truck driver. The scene on that highway was a horrible combination of my worst fears. And I want to make it clear that I am not here to excuse or condemn the driver involved in this crash. I will leave that to the police and the court system. I am writing this today because the fears I had before this disaster, have since been amplified. After witnessing that horrific scene I’m finding it difficult to remain silent in regards to the reality of trucking in this province.
And while I know that truckers head out everyday, saying goodbye to their families to supply the needs of yours. I also know, that the trucking industry has dirty little secrets that can have deadly consequences. My only hope is that from this tragedy we might see some changes and prevent something like this from happening again.
My husband has been involved in trucking in some capacity most of his working life. Being a prairie boy himself he started off trucking grain, but for more than two decades he has hauled dangerous goods in the oil and gas sector. Although he was farming and learning to drive big equipment in the field before most kids have their training wheels off, many drivers do not have any experience. In fact, in Saskatchewan, (as in most provinces) you aren’t required to have any training. You just need to pass a basic road test and written exam. On more than one occasion in his career he has been asked to ride along with new drivers to show them the ropes, which seems like an excellent idea. Until he came home with tales of drivers who aren’t even sure how to start the truck, shift, or make a proper turn. One of these guys could barely cross an intersection without stalling in front of oncoming traffic. On more than one occasion he has questioned how some of these drivers ever passed a road test.
But sadly inexperience is probably the least of our problems. I will be using trucking in the oil industry as my example in this piece, because the oil sector is what I am most familiar with. But believe me when I say, variations of these issues are present regardless of what goods are being hauled. In our neck of the woods, most semi drivers own their own truck, they sub contract under a trucking company, who bids for work required by oil companies. Therein lies a big problem. For one thing, the top priority of the trucking company is to keep the oil company happy. In order to do so, they ignore the best interests of the trucks and their drivers. They take very little time organizing loads, they cater to oil company employees, and dispatch drivers more loads than they could possibly complete in a legal number of hours. It’s not uncommon to see guys out driving for eighteen hours or more. They send drivers into areas with unsafe road conditions, often ignoring drivers reservations, insisting that the load needs to go. If and when accidents occur they are always quick to flip the script, putting the onus entirely on the drivers. And why wouldn’t they? Owner-operators, and drivers are supposed to refuse unsafe work, they are supposed to keep track of their hours of service and refuse work after this time. It is the law. The trouble is that drivers know that the squeaky wheel does not get the grease, it gets replaced. Many drivers that I have talked to over the years feel stuck. As entrepreneurs they aren’t entitled to employment insurance, they have bills to pay and family relying on them. And although a trucking company will rarely demand or threaten the operators they contract, they do employ more subtle methods of manipulation to get what they want. Drivers who refuse work, complain, or even make suggestions as to how loads are dispersed, are often blacklisted as difficult or lazy. Most often, if they aren’t fired, they are starved out until they can’t afford to stay. Many of the trucking companies also underbid on the work resulting in low rates. Low rates and high fuel costs slowly drive away skilled operators and increase the number of inexperienced drivers. But neither oil, nor trucking companies show much concern. The trucking company makes the same amount regardless of the cost of fuel, or the number of hours they work. And the oil companies save a buck by choosing the lowest bidder. And while oil and trucking companies claim that safety is paramount, it always amazes me how easily they turn a blind eye to these issues. Even though we know these kinds of practices result in more mistakes and accidents. My guess is that because they can’t be found legally responsible, they simply choose not to care about their part in the problem.
Again, I am not going to excuse drivers here. Professional drivers know the law. They know they need hold themselves to a higher standard. But my hope is that we also start to question why anyone would choose to work over 14 hours a day, everyday, putting themselves in a position where they could go to jail, kill themselves or someone else. I know why we have done it; fear. Fear we would lose the work, fear we would fail, fear we would let down the people we work for, fear we would lose our business and possibly our home.
And I don’t know what the perfect solution is. But I do know I can’t get last nights game, or that crash out of my head. I can’t stop thinking of the banners hanging in that arena last night. Each one reminding me of those that didn’t make it to this ceremony. Each one serving as a reminder that there are sixteen families whose lives were forever changed on that April day. Each banner reminding everyone who straps on some skates and gets on the ice, that “we play for them”. Each banner paying homage to the kids, coaches, and staff that are no longer with us, but ensuring that they are “Always remembered”.
But as I watched those brave boys step back on the ice last night, as the puck dropped, and they held back tears, pushing past their own grief to pay homage to their friends and teammates, I wondered, will we remember them? And I don’t mean just remembering the crash, their names or posting a message of remembrance every April on your Facebook page. I mean every time you turn the key and head out for another day on the road, will you remember them? Every time your company and it’s staff dispatch someone another load, knowing they’re over hours, will you remember them? Every time you speed up, hoping to get home to your family today, will you remember them? Every time your company dispatches a driver into another shitty Saskatchewan storm, despite road reports or the drivers reservations, will you remember them? Every time you lie, or edit your log book and keep your mouth shut, will you remember them?
I hope we all will. I hope we can be as brave as those surviving boys. They have a tough journey ahead of them. But I really feel that if we want to honour and remember them, we in the trucking industry are going to need to be brave too. We need to shine a light on the shady practices that we all know exist. We need to reset the bar! And so, we may have a tough journey ahead of us as well.
Personally and professionally I am well aware of the costs. I know it could increase costs for the oil companies we haul for. And I know if trucking companies have to put the interest of the trucks first, they will struggle to cater to the companies that contract them. It could cost them their run. And I also know that there is a good chance if we as professional drivers hold ourselves to the standards set by the law, if we refuse low pay, disorganization, unsafe work, or the extreme hours of service that these companies expect, we may face the ever present manipulation in this industry. It may cost us income. It may cost us our contracts or employment. It could possibly even cost our businesses. Some say these costs are too high.
So do we just keep our head in the sand? Keep rolling, business as usual. Just keep hoping you, or one of the trucks dispatched by you, are never a part of a scene like the one below. Because on April 6, 2018 we saw that the cost of our ignorance is way too high. What we can’t afford, is for this to happen again.
We need to remember them.