Carriers get ready for HazMat headaches

Carriers get ready for HazMat headaches

Carriers prepare for TSA fingerprint based background checks for HazMat endorsement

West Chester, PA-based transportation and logistics provider A. Duie Pyle is bracing itself for a shrinking pool of qualified HazMat drivers and administration headaches as a result of the implementation of the fingerprint-based background check rules.

With the current anemic pool of quality drivers, Jim Latta, vp—business development is worried that adding the extra steps to the process of getting a HazMat endorsement to CDLs will dry up the pool of experienced HazMat-certified drivers, as well as discourage new drivers from joining the ranks.

“From the driver’s standpoint, he’s got to take the time to locate and go to a fingerprint collection center and apply,” Latta told Fleet Owner. “It dampens the enthusiasm of prospective drivers. There are several portals he must pass through to be certified and in many cases, he would have to pay to go through that process.”

Although the responsibility ultimately falls on the drivers to go through the renewal process, A. Duie Pyle, a carrier that employs strictly HazMat-certified drivers, will initiate a program that tracks its drivers every step of the way.

“I think the carriers are held hostage because we can’t rely entirely on our drivers to complete this process,” Latta said, adding that by tracking its own drivers, it could guide them along until they have their renewals. “It’s a large bureaucratic burden on the carriers that employ HazMat drivers.”

Additionally, some carriers will have to compensate drivers for the time lost in going to have their fingerprints collected. This renewal process, in its entirety, is expected to take 45 to 90 days, Latta said.

Despite rough waters ahead, A. Duie Pyle has no plans to back off on its policy to employ 100% HazMat-certified drivers, Latta said. “We cater to industrial shippers—whether they have outbound or inbound freight,” he explained. “It’s difficult for a carrier in an LTL environment to separate entirely from HazMat. If they do, I can guarantee there’d be violations.”

Bob Inderbitzen, National Private Truck Council’s (NPTC) director of safety & compliance, believes that though the raw numbers of HazMat certified drivers may dwindle, the number of HazMat hauling drivers would remain relatively stable.

The pool of qualified HazMat drivers may shrink, but probably among the drivers that weren’t working in HazMat anyway,” Inderbitzen told Fleet Owner. “It may actually be a good thing because there would then be more accurate stats on HazMat drivers that actually haul HazMat.”

But especially for carriers that seat 100% HazMat drivers, communication will be key to maintaining the driver pool, Inderbitzen said.

“The company has to communicate up front what’s going on and how it affects them-- even go so far as to cover the cost of the background check,” Inderbitzen said. “In communicating with drivers I would emphasize the security aspect of it-- that would enhance their stature. They may want to get their own marketing people to communicate the positive [aspects of the fingerprint-based checks] to make sure drivers don’t see it as a negative.”

However, Inderbitzen does acknowledge that there will likely be carriers that have to pay a premium to maintain their HazMat drivers— whether its via compensation for time off for fingerprinting or covering the background check fees. However, the new background checks would, from the drivers’ perspective, enhance their marketability, which should be enough incentive for drivers to seek endorsement, he added.

“Today, drivers really have lots of opportunities, so to get their endorsements at a time when there’s a lot of demand would really be under their best interest,” Inderbitzen explained. “There are probably more private carrier HazMat companies offering jobs that are not over-the-road as much as general freight. If a driver wants a regular schedule, more of those opportunities are probably in the HazMat area.”

However, with the pool of HazMat certified drivers expected to shrink, many carriers will have to assess their HazMat loads and adjust their driver pool accordingly.

Herb Schmidt, president of truckload carrier Contract Freighters Inc. (CFI), said that the company has already removed HazMat certification from its prequisite. In the future, the carrier is going to have to decide whether or not it will continue offering HazMat services.

“Right now 90% of our drivers are HazMat-certified,” Schmidt told Fleet Owner. “We required certification in the past, but if we had continued to do so, we’d run into two problems. First of all, we’d shrink our pool of drivers and second, it’s expensive. But the driver shortage issue makes that decision a no-brainer. It’s just a matter of being able to fill a truck.”

TAGS: Operations
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