A New Study Looks At Truck Driver Health And Wellness

Just north of the border, the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Health has just started a study specifically looking at the health, safety and wellness of long-haul truck drivers. This study is different from others in that it looks at several factors related to a truck driver’s behavior. The spectrum of data points it encompasses includes stress, fatigue, environmental risks, and road hazards. Out of the many studies completed on this topic, this takes a holistic look at truck driver safety and health.

The study was carried out through the creation of two online surveys. One survey was geared towards truck drivers and the second towards trucking companies. The questions in the surveys were designed to learn more about truck drivers’ behaviors and what kind of initiatives trucking companies are implementing to support a healthier lifestyle for truck drivers.

The university will be running the surveys through January of 2019. They are hoping to generate approximately 1,000 responses from both truck drivers and fleets by the time the study completed. Currently, the university is going through the process of aggregating the data and will begin analysis once it has been collected.

Formerly, the university completed a pilot study to determine the efficacy of a full study. The results from their pilot study revealed that health issues ranging from unhealthy eating and drinking to stress and other physiological problems are having a negative impact on truck driver health and wellness. The pilot study also uncovered that trucking companies can and should be doing more to provide a supportive environment for their truck drivers. Whether it be through flexible working hours, better health and wellness policies, or specific programs targeting employee health, the options are out there.

The data gathered through the study, once analyzed, will be used to set up a Best Practices manual or series of guidelines that can be shared with employers and managers within trucking companies. The university took up the study for obvious reasons related to long-haul trucker health.

Professional over-the-road truckers are at risk for elevated illnesses simply due to the nature of their job. Just as an office worker must spend many, many hours a day in a single position, not moving or exercising, a truck driver must operate in similar circumstances. The question surrounding the debate now is: What can be done to change this paradigm?

As technological solutions emerge, trucking companies are better poised to facilitate programs that specifically address the health and wellness of their employees and operators. While many within the industry point to ELD compliance as a major pain point, the health and safety of our nation’s truck drivers should take center stage as we move into the future. Certainly, the growth of innovation in the industry will help.

Truck drivers may be at greater risk for suffering health issues, but as the trucking industry expands and fleets reap the benefits of a heady trucking environment, there is no reason why truck driver health and safety should not take center stage. By delving into the data provided by studies like the one being done by the University of Saskatchewan, trucking companies will be better positioned to do just that. Will we see measurable improvements in trucker health over time? Hopefully so.

Identifying Risk And Providing Timely Coaching

We are going to give you an example and then follow it up with recommendations on how you would handle such a situation, as an enterprising fleet manager. We are going to call this case study: When Good Drivers Are At Risk.

Take a good truck driver who is flagged as at risk. Perhaps the fleet manager thinks highly of this individual, mainly because he has a long safe driving record. Yet, as time went on, perhaps this truck driver’s score deteriorated to a level where he was suddenly identified as someone who may need proactive intervention. What if the fleet manager had a way to prevent the accident?

Fleets must be well aware of predictive factors that could shine a light on potentially unsafe behavior or life factors. What if the fleet manager had noticed that the truck driver had been leaving his house later every night? Perhaps the truck driver even had speeding events. Without being able to identify these factors, the fleet will be at a disadvantage when it comes to preventing an accident before it even happens.

Now imagine that the truck driver has a history of driving aggressively. After speaking to him or her, the manager finds out that the driver’s home was damaged in a storm and they are trying to rush home to fix the damage before it gets worse. So, he left the house later and drove faster. Speaking to the truck driver is important, but an action plan must be put in place to assist the employee in eliminating the stress of the situation and getting back to a level where an unsafe pattern can be modified. This is where coaching comes in.

Planning a Coaching Intervention

Being able to predict a potential crash based on bad behavior means nothing if no action is taken to handle the matter. Intervention, education, and effective coaching must be implemented to reverse the potential risk. Fleet managers must be trained on proper intervention techniques that allow for frank conversations when they uncover data that denotes an elevated crash risk.

Common coaching between a fleet manager and a truck driver should involve conversations about critical events or remedial training. Even more, these conversations need to be objective and relational so that truck drivers understand they are merely taking an active interest in safe operation of the fleet’s equipment. This is the only way the fleet manager will understand the stresses the truck driver is dealing with and be able to speak to them in a compassionate and understanding manner.

When a truck driver is dealing with issues related to health, family, finances, pay, hours, or work conditions, they may be at an increased risk for an accident. Fleet managers must be having proactive and positive conversations to uncover any underlying issues that may be contributing to said risk. They must be able to find a way to help lest a severe accident occur as a result of their inaction.

Consider that a 2017 study in Transportation Journal shows that truck driver stress extends beyond health, family, finances, or work conditions. Other factors stressing truck drivers include feelings of isolation or a lack of respect from managers and/or colleagues. These are factors that fleet managers should be able to address.

Don’t let at-risk behaviors or other factors lead to a potential accident. Isolate the cause through a productive conversation and work with your truck drivers and others within your organization to provide relief and ensure compliance and safe operation.

The Keys To Predicting And Preventing Severe Accidents – Part I

Today, we are going to bring you our multi-Part article series on what your fleet can do to predict and prevent severe accidents. And while you may initially think, “But that’s impossible,” in fact it can be done. Of course, every fleet wants to increase safety and mitigate crash risk, but they just don’t know how. By properly using data, sleep education and effective truck driver coaching, fleets can improve their overall level of safety and prevent horrible accidents.

Of course, the most significant aspect of a severe accident is the human toll. People can become injured or even die. Lives can be ruined. Beyond how it impacts people and their families, accidents can be substantial and leave little room for unbudgeted costs, whether they be from insurance claims, litigation, repairs, or service level damages. Consider that a single severe collision could cost your fleet millions of dollars, and you can see the problem. Numbers like that could cripple a small fleet.

One of the major problems in dealing with severe accidents lies in the fact that they are typically infrequent and largely happen at random… or do they? Could it be that, contrary to popular belief, large truck accidents are not random at all? Indeed, they may very well be a natural culmination of information, a set of subtle data points that can be isolated and analyzed. With the right information, motor carriers may very well be able to detect or prevent an accident before it ever occurs.

The key is understanding what issues the data points to. One of the most common causes of road accidents involving large trucks is that of fatigue. And while most conventional safety programs deal with specific truck diver behaviors, such as not checking mirrors or proper speed control, something like loss of control is generally a physiological problem. When a truck driver is suffering from fatigue or sleep abnormalities, they may feel awake even when their mind is asleep.

Consider this scary fact: A truck driver technically can be 100% in compliant with Hours of Service (HOS) regulations while still being asleep at the wheel. When truck drivers are tired and become distracted from operating the vehicle, accidents occur. Most severe accidents occur when truck drivers lose control of the vehicle and are not responsive at the point of contact.

When a truck driver has been exposed to:

  • Disrupted sleep
  • Truncated sleep
  • Sleeping during the day
  • Cumulative fatigue
  • New sleep patterns and times

They may be at risk for a severe accident. Additionally, there are six major accident types that fall into the “severe” category and can be attributed to fatigue and loss of control:

  • Roll-overs
  • Run-off-road
  • Head-on
  • Jack-knife
  • Side-swipe
  • Rear-end

Each of these accident types could be potentially fatal for anyone else on the road as well as the truck operator. These types of loss of control accidents happen when the operator is disconnected or distracted from the truck driving task at hand. In these situations, they may not take any action, but had they been awake, would have seen the point of impact at least five to seven seconds before the accident occurs.

This is where the data gleaned from electronic logs can be used to the benefit of the truck driver and the fleet. Although the ELD rollout has not been without its fair share of confusion and complaint, it does provide a rich data set that can be used to do more than ensure compliance, it can save lives. Join us in Part II of our series where we examine exactly how that can be done.

Creating A Safety Culture On A Budget

Not every fleet has the budget to spend huge amounts of money on safety initiatives. In fact, more than half of all fleets in the country are considered small-size motor carriers. So, instead of worrying about where they will come up with the necessary capital to invest in an expensive safety program, they should approach safety from a two-pronged approach.

Small fleets need to focus on the hiring and onboarding process in two ways. One, they need to create a company safety culture that promotes truck driver practices that reinforce safety. Two, they need to utilize a training system that matches the company’s needs.

Consider this: Annual truck driver turnover rate at small trucking fleets hit 80% in 2017. The fact is, small fleets have a much harder time recovering from attrition and turnover. It simply costs them more since they are working twice as hard with far less resources. This is why ensuring their workers receive adequate training, remain compliant with the organization’s safety values, and – above all – don’t quit.

If your truck drivers are compliant, yet have pride in the organization, and are passionate about what they do, it won’t be hard to ensure a great safety culture without having to invest tens of thousands of dollars in equipment and coaching.

Simplify Your Structure

Small fleets need to simplify their fleet management structure with programs that focus on safety, training, and follow-up. In many cases, fleet and/or safety managers can create simple programs, in-house, that keep these factors in mind.

One idea is to set up a safety group coupled with an in-house online training system. New truck drivers get two-to-five days of hands-on training followed up by a web-based test. This way they get the opportunity to work with a fellow truck driver, ask appropriate questions, and create a relationship they may not have with a direct manager, simply due to the chain of command.

Follow up tests would be designed to ensure the truck driver has retained the necessary information to succeed within the fleet. If for some reason they were unable to pass a basic proficiency, follow-up training can be assigned. The most important thing is to ensure that every truck driver has received the training they need to effectively, but most of all, safely, operate a commercial motor vehicle.

Consider these simple, cost-effective solutions:

  • Certified truck driver training programs;
  • In-house created instructional technology solutions;
  • Constructive feedback documented by trainers and company stakeholders, and;
  • Safety scorecards used to measure safety incidents and created by an in-house safety committee.

Compliance is important because if you have operators who are safe, but are not operating in a compliant manner, it does nothing to help the safety goals of your organization.

Inexpensive Online Solutions

Online solutions exist for small fleets who are looking for inexpensive options. Small fleet managers could employ training mechanisms that track and verify truck driver compliance and safety, all in one.

Fleets with limited resources could forego creating their own in-house programs for customized solutions and online training tools and dashboards that provide metrics and guidance. Customized online tools provide data that fleet safety managers can use to identify how operators are performing.

Even better, the National Safety Council provides an online course resource that small fleets can use at minimal cost. Whichever your fleet chooses, truck drivers feel empowered to practice safe driving behavior when they know the company they work for is investing in their future, even if that investment must be minimal.

In the end, you do not need to spend a small fortune, no matter your size, to enhance the safety culture within your organization. Find online tools or build in-house, then tap into the resource you already have: experienced truck drivers who can help train and retain.

Key Tips To Improving Your CSA Scores – Part III

Welcome to our final installment where we look at how to improve your CSA scores. Even though we are facing a wholesale change as CSA scores transform into the IRT model, trucking companies must still live and die by the current model, so we want to cover everything we can to help you make sure your fleet is prepared.

Today, we are going to finish out our look at how you can ensure your CSA scores are in tip-top shape. Let’s first dive into preventative maintenance, pre-trip inspections, and your DVIR. As any fleet manager knows, it is absolutely critical that a systematic maintenance on all vehicles and trailers in the fleet are completed, but what more should they know?

Looking at Inspections

A motor carrier’s truck drivers should be well-trained on how to do pre-trip inspections. The best way to train a truck driver is to provide an example and show them examples of how to do it. Are you properly watching how long your truck drivers spend on an inspection? This should be a matter of company policy and should provide a standard by which all your operators live by.

Note that Federal regulation 396.13 state that the truck driver needs to do the following before hopping in the cab and operating the commercial motor vehicle:

  • They must be satisfied that the motor vehicle is in safe operating condition.
  • They must review the last driver vehicle inspection report.
  • They must sign the duty report and note any defects or deficiencies.

Are you performing simple tests to ensure your truck drivers are performing their pre-trip inspection properly? How many of them should have noticed issues that were not picked up during the inspection? Furthermore, how are they properly ensuring the cargo they are carrying is secured?

Consider that things falling off the truck could not only harm CSA scores, it could cause potential injury or death to other drivers on the road. When a truck driver puts something on the vehicle, they have got to ensure it does not move, is blocked, braced, and tied down.

There are two pre-trip schedules. Schedule A is a pre-trip inspection performed by a mechanic or shop technician. Schedule B is an inspection that generally refers to keeping oil healthy. Annual inspections should be standard operating procedure. Is your fleet ensuring they are completed?

HazMat Compliance

There is something very important to consider. If your fleet transports hazardous materials, you need to make sure your truck drivers are thoroughly familiar with the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR). Fleets that carry HazMat freight are required to have a higher CSA score than regular motor carriers. Common issues that HazMat carriers must be trained in include:

  • Ensuring HazMat goods are classified and packaged correctly.
  • Ensuring shipping papers are correct.
  • Ensuring correct markings, labels, and placards are present.
  • Ensuring an emergency response kit is readily available within the vehicle.

Another thing to consider is the route. HazMat drivers operating on restricted routes can receive a CSA violation. Are you operating with a commercial-grade navigation system that complies with truck-legal routes?

Effective Safety Committee

Not all motor carriers have a safety committee, but yours should. Implementing a safety committee ensures your fleet is safety-conscious. Even more, as CSA moves towards the IRT model, the FMCSA is going to be looking at safety culture as barometer for fleet performance.

A safety committee is designed to learn the root cause of safety issues, as well as how to fix them. Even more, a safety committee cannot be just for show. It must have the authority to implement changes as it sees fit.

In the end, even though CSA is changing, to win the business your fleet is deserved, you need to make sure you have safety on the mind. CSA scores and your bottom line stand to benefit from this mindset.

Key Tips To Improving Your CSA Score – Part II

Welcome back to Part II in our series taking a look at how you can improve your CSA scores. In our last post we examined exactly what a CSA score is and how it is weighted. This week, we will begin diving into key ways that you can ensure your CSA score remains as sparkly clean as possible.

Consider this: It takes around 20 good inspection to offset one bad inspection. There are many reasons to pay close attention to your CSA scores, but this one should really give you pause. There are essential tips every truck driver or fleet manager should know, so let’s get started.

Data Verification

Ensuring your inspection data is verified is critical to avoiding a bad inspection on your record. You need to make sure your inspection data is valid, accurate, and warranted. If you see bad inspection data, make sure to get it corrected.

You can always challenge bad information through an RDR, or request for data review process. Just bear in mind that before you do so, you will need to make sure you have clear, factual evidence for why the data is incorrect. You will also need to clearly list issues, whether they are missing records, incorrect or duplicate information.

It is also critical that you use neutral language. The review officer is very much likely a peer of the officer who made the original notation. If you have ELD records, photos, eyewitness accounts, or otherwise, all of this will be good for your cause. Also remember that you have up to two years to challenge inspection data.

When it comes to ensuring proper data trails, make sure your carrier registration is kept up-to-date. Motor carriers are required to complete an MCS-150 form at least once every two years. Ensure truck and truck driver numbers and mileage data are all up-to-date.

Ensuring Control

Does your management team have adequate safety controls in place? The Safety Management Cycle put forth by the DOT was done so to ensure there are controls in place. The operations team must establish clearly-defined roles and responsibilities, as well as hiring and training standards.

When a truck driver or other member of the team is not performing up to standard, it is on the management team to do something about it. Some fleets use a three-strike process. It might help to establish thresholds for events such as speeding, swerving, or harsh braking.

Whatever process your fleet uses, you must make sure your management controls are properly documented and make sense. Otherwise you could find yourself on the wrong end of a DOT audit.

Dispatch Limitations

Always remember that staying CSA compliant is not just the responsibility of your truck drivers. Dispatch operators and managers also have a big job to do. Consider dispatch limits as defined in regulation 395.3 of the HOS rules. These rules are not up for debate.

Dispatchers must make sure that they are not overloading the fleet truck drivers to such an extent that it forces them to violate HOS rules. If the home office is not doing a good enough job helping truck drivers stay compliant with HOS rules, you may find a CSA violation is not far behind.

With the ELD mandate here, it is far easier to eliminate what used to be one of the largest HOS violations, problem with logbooks. Have you already outfitted your fleet with electronic logging devices? If not, you may be on the unfortunate receiving end of a violation.

Join us next week in our final installment of this series!

Key Tips To Improving Your CSA Score – Part I

The fact is this: Improving your CSA score can benefit you in many ways. Even more, it can benefit your truck drivers and other stakeholders who have an interest in seeing your fleet succeed. Since CSA scores are public information, motor carriers with higher scores will be preferred by clients who want to rest assured that their freight is in good hands.

Even more, fleets with better CSA scores suffer fewer DOT audits and roadside inspections. This directly translates into lower insurance premiums, which could mean thousands of dollars saved every year. And since potential recruits want to work for a company that has a good reputation, great CSA scores go a long way in ensuring you can find the best truck drivers for the job.

While staying compliant is important, the overriding factor in keeping CSA scores acceptable should be the safety of your truck drivers and others on the road, as well as providing a good working environment for your employees. Unfortunately, many motor carriers still aren’t even sure what goes into their CSA score. Smaller fleets may not feel the imperative to learn everything they need to learn about this important compliance and safety metric.

What is a CSA Score?

CSA was rolled out at the tail-end of 2010 as a way to introduce greater enforcement and compliance from information collected during roadside inspections. The Department of Transportation also wanted a way to identify “at risk” carriers, which CSA allows them to do. Scores are shown as a percentage, with the DOT choosing to investigate a motor carrier if their score falls to 80% or below.

A CSA score is a rating made up of any violations a motor carrier has racked up over a 24-month period. The rating system itself is made up of over 700 different violations, which all fit into seven different categories. These categories themselves are referred to as BASIC scores, which stands for Behavioral Analysis Safety Improvement Categories.

They are as follows:

  • Unsafe Driving: Speeding, reckless driving, improper lane changes, and inattention or distraction.
  • HOS Compliance: Hours of Service compliance and operating the vehicle while either ill or overly fatigued.
  • Truck Driver Fitness: Failure to have a valid or appropriate CDL or being medically unqualified to operate the vehicle.
  • Controlled Substances/Alcohol: Use or possession of controlled substances or alcohol.
  • Vehicle Maintenance: Brakes, lights, or other mechanical defects or failures where a repair should have been completed.
  • Cargo: Improper load securement, cargo retention, or hazardous material handling.
  • Crash Indicators: Histories or patterns of high crashes, whether that be in frequency or severity.

Now that you are aware of what the CSA scores are made up of, we want to take you through key steps to improving them. Ensuring your CSA scores are in good shape could be the thing that makes or breaks your business. Even more, it could be the signal to proper operation and safe truck driving. What more could you ask for?

The guidelines we are going to outline for you over this two-Part series are designed to become a critical part of your motor carrier’s culture. These are not quick fixes. To ensure you get the most out of them, you must have buy-in from those within the organization who can directly impact. If you do not know your CSA score, make sure to visit the official website here and search by your carrier name or USDOT number. Be sure to join us next week as we dive into the steps required to get control over your CSA score.

The Keys To Proper Coaching – Part II

In our last installment of this Two-Part series, we looked at an important measure of truck driver success: Coaching. To ensure new truck drivers are up-to-speed on how they should operate commercial motor vehicles, fleets must put time and effort into taking care that they are properly coached.

While technology and matching up truck drivers are important, there is more that goes into coaching. This week we will move on from cost and technical requirements and look at the real red meat of coaching. How long does coaching take and what really matters? What should a motor carrier expect to gain out of an effective truck driver coaching program?

Evaluating the Time Required

To provide truly effective coaching as part of a comprehensive truck driver safety program, some time needs to be put into the process. You simply can’t sit two people together for a half-hour on a one-time basis and expect them to achieve a true level of training or behavior modification.

Of course, the amount of time spent on individual coaching sessions depends a lot on the fleet. How many vehicles is the fleet running? Where is the fleet located? How many new truck drivers are on the payroll? By addressing these questions, a fleet can properly determine how much time (and of course, the cost) required to get the necessary result.

Technology also plays a role, as we discussed in last week’s post. If a fleet is utilizing video elements to their coaching program, they must consider how long it will take to compile the video, watch the video, and coach to the outcomes. Ensuring a coaching solution includes a portal accessible through the web or mobile device can help fleet managers and coaches stay on top of coaching tasks and truck driver development.

Measuring Success

An effective coaching program does more than just sit two people together and hope for a positive outcome. Safety managers must come up with a scorecard by which both truck driver, and even their coaches, can be evaluated by. It is critical to measure what works, who is an effective coach, and whether the truck drivers being coached are absorbing the information being provided.

Did you know that nearly 80% of a fleet’s risk level comes from less than 20% of their driving force? Without a measurable coaching program that is tracked and evaluated, it is nearly impossible for a fleet to determine who those 20% are, outside of waiting for a collision to occur.

Coaches must be assigned a specific workflow. An effective program will help a fleet go from managing claims to preventing claims. Key performance indicators, surveys, benchmarks, and recognition for a job well done all go a long way to getting coaching buy-in and achieving real results.

Many fleets use a 4-step process to manage coaching:

  1. Watch the event twice using video. An understanding must be made regarding the particular behavior being witnessed on the video.
  2. Watch the event at least once with the truck driver so that they can walk you through what was going on in their mind when a particular event happens.
  3. Properly explain the risk associated with the particular behavior. Ensure the truck driver understands the risk and what could happen if the behavior continues.
  4. Properly document the coaching session, take notes, and log any metrics or performance indicators used in the coaching session.

Coaching is about making a lasting behavioral change. Fleets should be building their coaching program around effective coaching, but also effective follow-up. Coaching should never be a one-off situation, but rather an ongoing education session. Only by practicing these principles can motor carriers ensure their truck drivers are staying safe on the road and avoiding risky behaviors.

The Keys To Proper Coaching: Part I

When it comes to increasing a fleet’s level of overall safety, coaching is key. Yet, far too few transportation companies handle coaching properly. Fleet managers must understand that to maintain a top-notch level of truck driver safety, they must take a comprehensive and proactive approach to safety coaching.

Essentially, transportation companies must combine all the cutting-edge tools at their disposal with an effective “human element” to ensure their truck drivers are getting the message. Programs exist that provide fleet managers and supervisors with the data they need to improve coaching opportunities and truck driver performance.

By investing in coaching, motor carriers can better manage driver risk by predicting which truck drivers and behaviors are most likely to result in a collision. This allows a fleet manager to focus his or her coaching efforts on those who need the most help.

There are three critical factors associated with effective coaching:

  • Reduction of truck driver turnover;
  • Cost cutting, and;
  • Morale boosting;

In addition to this, there are more than a few ways in which a fleet can measure the success of their coaching efforts:

  • How much time it takes to coach;
  • The overall cost of coaching;
  • Measuring behavioral change, and;
  • Seeing improved safety scores across the fleet.

Let’s look at one of the most important parts of any coaching program: The truck driver.

From an Employment Perspective

It is no great secret that employees thrive when they are recognized for a job well done and improved performance. They also appreciate it when their fleet actively spends time, money, and effort in ensuring they can safely operate their vehicles and can succeed.

While some employees may initially balk at measures taken to improve coaching, such as in-cab video, telematics, or other methods, once they realize that these systems can help exonerate them from false claims and help them become better truck drivers, it isn’t long before they buy into the concept.

When truck drivers know that their fleet is actively investing in making them better, it increases overall morale. As morale increases, truck drivers are less likely to jump ship to another fleet. Research shows that coaching has a net positive effect on how employees view their job.

From a Cost Perspective

Effective coaching also goes a long way in improving your company’s bottom line. When truck drivers are better at what they do, it helps to realize greater cost savings through fewer accidents and claims. Fleets also realize less vehicle wear-and-tear and increased fuel efficiency.

Furthermore, when truck drivers are less likely to quit and go elsewhere, this decreases the costs associated with turnover, recruiting, and retaining truck drivers. When the coaching is effective, the bottom line sees better days.

Using Technology to Coach

The fact is this: Watching video footage is an extremely effective way to train new or inexperienced truck drivers. It also allows a coach to get a clear look at how well a truck driver is doing and what their learning curve is. How quickly does the truck driver respond upon seeing the footage?

Telematics allow coaches to dig into the raw data associated with how the truck driver is driving. From sensing speed to braking and more, sensors and other advanced telematics solutions provide hard data that coaches, and truck drivers, can swiftly act upon.

The fact is, no cost is too high when it comes to ensuring safe operation of fleet equipment. Trucking companies should ensure they are investing wisely into coaching efforts. With so many new truck drivers entering the work force, a guiding hand could be the only thing preventing a disaster out on the road.

Proper Air Brake Inspections Are Critical To Safe Operation

Did you know that almost 1,600 commercial motor vehicles were put out of service during Brake Safety Day this past April? Out of the over 11,000 inspections completed in North America, over 13 percent of inspected vehicles got an out-of-service violation because of substandard brake maintenance. It is critical that trucking companies pay close attention to the condition of their air brakes, and not just because they are worried about a violation. Brakes play a critical role in the overall safe operation of commercial motor vehicles.

Chamber Size

That’s why we wanted to devote this week’s blog post to ensuring your air brakes are in proper order. Are you aware of all the steps required to ensure the functionality of your braking system?

First, make sure that brake adjustments and checks are completed before the brakes are in use. When the brakes are heated up, stroke measurements can be far longer. Why? Because the brake drum itself expands when in use. Cold brake check measurements are key to getting a proper reading.

The brake chamber size must be determined while in this state. First, technicians will want to locate the size markings on both the clamp and chamber body. Are those markings easily readable? If not, special calipers can help technicians ascertain the proper chamber measurement size.

Ranges for brake chambers generally fall between 6 and 36. Steer axle brakes will be smaller due to the nature of the steer axle. Expect those measurements to fall somewhere between 12 and 20. Heavier axles, by their nature, rely on larger chamber sizes.

Pushrod Stroke

What method will you use to determine a brake’s applied pushrod stroke? There are a couple to choose from. First, you can mark the pushrod with a reference point. This will allow you to operate the brake then go back and see where the measure met up with actual performance.

Second, you can measure the released position of the pushrod. Make sure to take account of the distance from a single point on the pushrod body to a fixed point near the brake chamber. If that measurement is off at all, you may of a problem.

Wherever your measurement comes out at, you will want to lower the vehicle’s air pressure through either running the engine or pumping the brake pedal. It will be important to ensure you have reached between 90 and 100 psi on both the primary and secondary tanks. With the correct air pressure indicated, make sure you apply and hold pressure to the brake pedal to get a true reading.

Fortunately, many brake OEMs already make their products with marked pushrods. This allows technicians to quickly determine whether a brake is out of adjustment or not without having to go through the manual checkmark process. Brakes that are within alignment will show the marking as being inside the body of the brake chamber. Conversely, if any part of the indicator is visible, the brakes either need to be flushed or are out of alignment.

Checking Adjustments

To get a good idea of whether brakes are adjusted properly or not without a fully-fledged inspection is another option. Ensure the vehicle is properly secured, then grab a prybar and pull back the push bar from the brake chamber. What is the push bar’s range of motion? If you are nearly an inch within stroke-free distance, your brake may be out of adjustment.

Without brakes, there is no safe operation of any vehicle, commercial or otherwise. Always ensure your technicians are up-to-date on how to check a rig’s air brakes and you can rest assured that your fleet is operating safely, day-in and day-out!