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The most safety-conscious and well-maintained fleet can incur a substantial fine just for being in the dark about a relatively minor leak of diesel fuel

COMPANY:

Pottle's Transportation, Bangor, ME

OPERATION:

Truckload carrier serving 48 states and Canada with high-density concentration in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast and Midwest regions

Problem:

In today's ever-greener world, the most safety-conscious and well-maintained fleet can incur a substantial fine just for being in the dark about a relatively minor leak of diesel fuel from one of its trucks. In the case of Pottle's Transportation, the fine levied by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for failing to report quickly enough a leak of some 20 to 30 gallons of diesel along the pavement — after road debris pierced a saddle tank — amounted to $11,500.

Specifically, the law involved puts the reportable quantity of any spilled petroleum product at just 10 gallons and the state Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) must be notified within two hours of the incident to avoid a citation being issued. Despite the mitigating circumstances of what happened to the Pottle's truck — the driver was unaware his tank had sprung a leak until a local police officer pulled him over in Charlton, MA — the steep fine was assessed all the same.

Solution:

Safety manager Sheldon Cote says the carrier, determined not to face such risks again, turned to Spill Center (www.spillcenter.com). According to Tom Moses, president of Spill Center, his firm worked with Pottle's and its wireless communications provider Qualcomm to develop an onboard spill-reporting system.

The adaptation resulted in creating a “spill macro” for loading onto the fleet's Qualcomm OmniTracs mobile-comm system. An assigned key on the driver's OmniTracs terminal brings up a blank spill form that the driver then fills in with pertinent information about any spill. The driver then sends the message. It is processed through Qualcomm's Multiple Access Software System, which enables automatic data sharing with authorized third parties, and is forwarded to both Pottle's and the Spill Center's 24/7 call center, which immediately notifies authorities and completes the required reports. “Nobody had proposed this sort of thing before,” Cote points out.

The fine essentially resulted from a breakdown in communications. Although Cote should have been notified right away, he did not learn about the spill until the next morning — missing the DEP's two-hour reporting window but good. “We don't have a lot of spills and that's part of the reason I think people forgot about what to do in these situations,” says Cote. “In 20-some years, we may have had a half-dozen of these incidents. It has always been road debris that comes up and punctures a tank.”

Now when a driver looks at the Qualcomm keyboard, the spill macro label serves as a reminder as well. “The driver is the key individual in this whole thing,” remarks Cote. “The system gives us an extra margin of insurance that the message is going to get through much quicker than a phone call.”

And there's an extra happy ending to this story. As part of a settlement reached with the state DEP, according to Cote, the $11,500 penalty for late notification has been “significantly reduced” in recognition of the carrier implementing the new onboard notification system.

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