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USGNN Original StoryCouncil Meets on Logistics of Transporting Flat Glass
May 28, 2009

Improving safety and preventing litigation surrounding the transportation of glass were among the chief goals of the approximately 20 members of the Flat Glass Logistics Council (FGLC) who met today in Chicago.

Karl Manrodt, a professor in the department of management, market and logistics at Georgia Southern University and executive director of FGLC, opened the meeting by saying that carriers are facing a number of issues, ranging from needs for newer equipment and capacity problems to foreign competition and an aging driver population, as well as the cost of transportation. "Does anyone think it's going to go down?" Manrodt asked of those costs. "I hate to tell you, but it's going up … [we're] facing a lot of risk, rising fuel prices."

Attorney Dan Hitt with Hitt Hiller Monfils Williams touched on one way of reducing costs and improving safety - by limiting litigation in this segment of the industry.

Hitt walked his listeners through a case study and as he discussed the litigation he offered some advice. For starters, he advised that if there is an accident, that carriers consider abating their discipline of the driver for a time afterwards until determining if litigation will arise.

"Why do you make preventability determinations?" he asked. "The usual answer is we have to use it as a manner to control our drivers, to show we're paying attention, it's our way of showing responsibility. That may play a role in the smaller instances but when you have a major case, consider holding off for a year; hold off until your lawyer says it's OK to make your preventability determination."

Not that carriers should do nothing about these drivers. "I think you should put [the driver] through a remedial process, I think every driver should go through remedial training after an accident, period," Hitt said. He added, "Don't put the driver back on the truck tomorrow … don't confuse avoiding preventability determinations with putting him back on the truck."

This gives the company time to look into the accident and make a responsible determination of what happened to cause the accident, before determining how to discipline the driver. "It doesn't mean you're not going to fire him, it means you're going to go about this in a methodical way," said Hitt.

Regarding safe drivers, the group discussed what the driver should do if the shipper puts something on the truck that he considers unsafe.

"You have to play the squeaky wheel," Hitt said. However, he added, legally if you think you have a safety problem with your cargo, "Then you can't drive. You can't." So if the driver points out a safety issue and then gets behind the wheel without resolution, that's a big problem as well.

Manrodt noted that in this tough industry most carriers face extremely high turnover rates, making it difficult to get well-trained individuals carrying glass, which is particularly difficult to transport. "It's a very specialized product that requires a lot more expertise [than one might think] from the driver," he said. He added, of the difficulty the drivers face, "Most fabricators have no idea."

Regarding those drivers, Hitt noted that in transportation-related litigation judges are looking at "failure to use due care in selecting the trucker." When selecting drivers, carriers should check that they have a satisfactory rating with SAFER/SafeStat (safety and fitness electronic records system available from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration at www.safer.fmcsa.dot.gov) and good references. "If they have a satisfactory rating you're probably OK on that basis alone, but I'd recommend you also check their references," Hitt said.

Hitt also noted, though, that these stats were never intended to be for anything other than internal agencies' use, but now are a "have to" for companies looking to protect themselves.

Manrodt asked if fabricators have, in fact, been using these SAFER stats and Christine Greer, corporate logistics manager of Guardian Industries, commented that it's something at which Guardian is now looking.

"If I hire someone, these are the steps I'd have to go through to bullet-proof myself," Manrodt reminded his listeners.

This question of whether the driver should accept whatever the shipper puts on the truck led specifically to discussion about how some manufacturers will add their own separator pads and extra packs, particularly of thinner glass, which may seem more efficient to the fabricator doing the shipping, but also may create pressure points leading to cracks.

"If our goal is safety, maybe we should have a standard at the loading point for different sizes of glass," said Rosaire Bélanger, president of Bélanger Express.

"Because it is so thin … there are issues with those separator pads," commented Greer, in explaining why Guardian avoids this particular issue.

Craig Brown of Maverick Transportation added, "Everyone does something a little different because there's no standardization of trailers."

Hitt agreed that problem should be addressed.

"I would love to see a standardized method or two or three for these trailers and the kinds of things they're using so we're not having these conversations," Hitt said.

And while standardization for improving safety and protecting the industry might be ideal, Hitt summarized that sometimes there are defects in a pack and "things happen and the pack blows out." Glass is a very difficult material to transport, after all, he added, and sometimes this stuff happens.

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