Trucking issues dominated the program and conversation at the 17th annual meeting of the South Carolina Timber Producers Association (SCTPA), held February 5-7. There was also lots of talk about excessive rainfall and muddy conditions seen in the state of late, and poor working conditions may have actually boosted attendance. Some 415 members, family reps, associates, and friends turned out for the event, which attracted record sponsor participation, according to Crad Jaynes, CEO of the organization.

A three-part presentation titled Log Truck Safety—The TEAM Approach, featured Jimmie Locklear and Keith Biggs of North Carolina-based Forestry Mutual Insurance Co. and Randy Hervey, veteran manager of BITCO Insurance Co.’s Forest Products Program. Last year Biggs and Locklear took the lead in pulling together TEAM Safe Trucking (TST), a broad-based effort seeking to stabilize and improve the forest industry’s deeply troubled transportation sector, which Locklear described as the most serious problem now confronting the wood fiber supply chain.

Locklear stated that while many loggers and log truckers do a commendable job on the highway—“the nation’s most dangerous work zone”—the industry’s trucking segment overall is performing poorly, resulting in increasing mishaps and multiple forms of disruptive, traumatic, costly fallout. In addition to injuries and the occasional fatality, such fallout includes property damage, loss of income, legal entanglements, negative public perception, and higher insurance premiums. All this is forcing some truckers to the side of the road and causing some insurance providers to abandon the market, he said.

At the hub of the trouble is the driver, the most important trucking element, Locklear asserted, pointing out that conscientious ones are aging and new candidates are hard to find. He noted that willing drivers often cannot pass a drug test or meet insurance/government requirements, and some are simply not capable of handling a loaded log truck. Other driver stumbling blocks include relatively low pay that can be impacted by weather, markets and long lines at the mill; low freight rates; few if any benefits; inherent health issues (limited physical activity); little opportunity for advancement; unforgiving off-road conditions; and high worker’s comp costs.

Read more in the March/April issue of Timber Harvesting magazine: http://www.timberharvesting.com/