Chain of Thought

Death's an Unforgiving Teacher

A stretch of Interstate 480 near my home in Independence, Ohio spans the Cuyahoga River Valley. It's known as the Valley View Bridge. I drive over it frequently, never thinking of the 200-foot drop I would experience if my car ever sailed over the edge. It's an experience nobody could describe because nobody could survive it. It was the last experience Larry Cunningham ever had.

On February 22nd he was driving a tractor trailer owned by Gray Container over the bridge when all of a sudden, for some reason, he hit the brakes. His rig jackknifed, sending him and his cab off the side of the bridge. Could this accident have been avoided? Sure, maybe the barriers on the side of the bridge are too low. But what about the truck itself?

The local news reported that according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records, Gray Container was inspected 19 times over the last two years, and the company's four listed vehicles were placed out of service on 15 of those occasions. While the cab of Mr. Cunningham's truck was too damaged to tell inspectors much, 19 inspections in two years smells like a smoking gun to me.

I tell you about this because although Gray may be a small fish in the trucking industry, plenty of big companies have been found guilty of ignoring the safety of their drivers. As we reported yesterday, UPS reached a $1.3 million settlement with the New York State Attorney General's Office for permitting package-delivery trucks in serious disrepair to be used by UPS employees throughout the state. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said UPS knowingly endangered not only the lives of their own employees but the lives of the driving public. “By keeping these rotting and decaying trucks on the roadways,” he added, UPS was an accident waiting to happen, and this office has zero tolerance for anyone who knowingly poses a serious and significant risk to New Yorkers.”

No logistics professional, whether an executive or a lift truck driver, should ignore the lessons to be learned from these headlines. The fact they happened outside your four-walled sanctuary doesn't make you or the people in your plant or distribution center immune from the consequences of safety violations, willful or not. Lift truck deaths make headlines too.

Last year, in a Sonoco Recycling facility in Salisbury, North Carolina, Plant Supervisor Maurice Jay Alexander was crushed by an 800 lb bale of cardboard that fell off his lift truck's tines. Apparently he had stepped off the lift truck to make an adjustment and the bale fell while he was in front of the machine. According to the Charlotte office of the North Carolina Department of Labor's division of occupational health and safety, Sonoco Recycling failed to train and evaluate this operator in the safe operation of his particular vehicle. And according to a report from ForkliftAction.com, Sonoco Recycling faces additional sanctions for more recent violations involving inadequate operator training. Apparently Mr. Alexander's death wasn't a sufficient lesson for them.

Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Alexander were family men. The only solace their employers can offer these families is the hope that their loved ones didn't die in vain. Let's all hope rigorous operator training and equipment maintenance become these men's legacies.

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