by Larry Boccarossa
Formed in 2015, Team Safe Trucking (TST) is a broad-based, nonprofit volunteer group seeking to elevate the standard and performance of the American forest-products industry’s log trucking sector. More than 20 states are represented by the program, which is focused on the safe transportation of forest products and truck-safety operations. Group organizers believe it is the most serious issue confronting the wood-fiber supply chain.
The mission of TST is to reduce accidents through enhanced driver training and effective fleet management and to recruit new, safety-focused drivers to deliver a sustainable and profitable supply chain. The goal of the group is to educate everyone involved in the forest-products industry concerning its transportation sector.
A common theme across the industry mirrors a national trend – the need for more log truck drivers and how to get people interested in embarking on a career. According to the American Transportation Research Institute’s annual industry-issues report for 2017, driver shortage topped the list of critical issues facing the industry for the first time since 2006, and the need for truck drivers in the logging and forest-products sector could reach a crisis level in the next decade.
A number of factors are said to be contributing to this challenge, including low unemployment that draws potential drivers away from the sector, demographic trends including the average age of truckers approaching 50, fewer young people interested in driving as a profession, eligible drivers failing required drug screenings and public perception issues regarding safety about trucking in general.
In addition to driver shortages, some smaller carriers that contract in agriculture, including forest products and timber harvesting, have been greatly impacted by changes in federal hours of service (HOS) requirements. HOS changes have included the addition of electronic logging devices (ELDs) and drivers seemed to have adapted more quickly and adeptly than first anticipated. But many truckers in the ag sector say the ELDs may be too restrictive if drivers require a few additional minutes over their hour limits to overcome problems like driving in bad traffic or construction activity that forces them to re-route.
Larger carriers in other industries can often send new drivers to take over in those cases; smaller companies don’t necessarily have the economies of scale to invest in more trucks and drivers, and thus have to weigh the need to hire more drivers with investment costs.
As a result, in addition to an overall driver shortage due to other factors, HOS adjustments are impacting many supply chains in the forest products industry as well. Steve Anthony, CEO of Arkansas-based Anthony Timberlands, told the media last year that his company’s product was just sitting on the shelf. Anthony said he couldn’t find any trucks, and that despite seeing the strongest market in his lifetime — with robust prices and surging demand — he was unable to fully reap the rewards due to supply chain limitations associated with trucking.
The timber-harvesting and forest-products sectors have been working hard to develop and implement strategies that will add more drivers. These issues will be a focus of a training session at the annual Southwest Forest Products Expo scheduled for August 23-24 at the Hot Springs Convention Center. As many as 3,000 attendees and more than 50 exhibitors are expected, and more information on the expo is available at ArkLoggers.com.
Another common theme in the industry is the negative view the public has towards log truck drivers and the logging industry compared to other industries. Team Safe Trucking, for whom the Arkansas Timber Producers Association is an education sponsor, is looking to partner with other national and state associations to create a campaign that will both encourage individuals to become log truck drivers and stress the importance of the forest-products industry.
After all, the industry provides necessary forest products to the consuming public as well as significant benefits that accompany active forest management including sustainability of natural resources, water-quality conservation, improved air quality and wildlife habitat.
Larry Boccarossa is executive director of the Arkansas Timber Producers Association.