May and June 2006



Guest Columnist

Log Truck Drivers Face Extremely Dangerous Work Conditions

By Jim Nielson, Owner of Jim Nielson Trucking

During the past five years, more log truck drivers have been killed than in any other time in logging industry. That was the message from a companysponsored safety meeting held on the 24th of March. One of the major contributing causes is a compensation system that rewards risk taking and unsafe behaviors.

The spokesman from The Department of Labor and Industries who spoke at the meeting was a wealth of information. He talked about the need for constant vigilance in the workplace. We all have an obligation to one another to be on the lookout for dangerous situations. He said the primary hazards involved were: excessive speed, tailgating, driver inattention, load stability, and equipment failure. When I asked the L&I representative what he thought the problems were, he said that the increased number of miles we drive each day was the biggest contributing factor.

Here are some of the fatal facts I found. From 1998 to 2002, there were 11 log truck drivers who lost their lives. Of the 11 who lost their lives: 6 trucks left the roadway, 2 were involved in collisions on the roadway, 2 more lives were lost loading and unloading; last, but not least, 1 was under unknown circumstances. I personally know of 4 more who have been killed since 2002. How does this happen? How many don’t I know about? How many citizens have been killed, or involved in accidents on our public roads?

I can’t answer all of the above questions, but that doesn’t keep me from thinking about them. What I can tell you is that number is far too high.

Allow me to give you my thoughts on all of this. I have been in the timber industry for almost 38 years. I have been an owner operator for 21 of those years. During the past 11 years the compensation systems have changed. In order to stay in business I find that taking risks and engaging in unsafe behaviors have become “business-as-usual.”

What I have experienced in the last 11 years is that to generate enough revenue for my business, my employees and I drive excessive hours to make up for the increased miles we have to travel. We are expected to haul overweight loads and to haul loads that are loaded in a manner not fit for wood roads, let alone public thoroughfares. All of these things lead to an unsafe work place for us, and ultimately to the general safety of our citizens. If we are to lessen the death rate in our industry, it is imperative that we start doing things differently.

HB 3227, introduced at this legislative session, would have done wonders in changing these problems. Allowing the owner operators to openly negotiate their bottom line would ensure that we would all be safer. Let’s not wait for another loss of life, when we have the means to prevent it!


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This page was last updated on Friday, October 20, 2006