5 ways pandemic responses led to positive changes in trucking

Canada’s trucking industry had to scramble in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Rest areas, truck stops, and shipper facilities were closed to drivers. Safety managers were left searching for new supplies such as hand sanitizer and masks. Even processing paper documents became a struggle.

Many of these issues have largely been resolved, but some lasting positive changes may have emerged in the process. Consider these five examples discussed during an online presentation of Ontario’s Fleet Safety Council:

1. Growing mental health awareness

Working while the world shut down around them, truck drivers were more isolated than usual. Kelly Henderson, executive director of the Trucking Human Resources Sector Council – Atlantic, heard stories about drivers who remained at terminals rather than returning home after trips to the U.S., fearing they might pass the virus to family members.

Existing mental health struggles were amplified when people were further isolated, added Mike Millian, president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada.

He believes the pandemic has reinforced the need to ensure some level of personal interactions continue, even in an era when much information is shared digitally. It has raised the need to focus on mental health awareness, too.

Mental health services can often be accessed through existing employee assistance programs if people are reminded that such help exists, Henderson said.

“A lot of times we thing people won’t ask for help,” she added. “Maybe they just don’t want to ask their dispatcher or manager.”

2. Enhanced online training

The onset of the pandemic introduced the need for related safety guidance. But the details also had to be delivered digitally.

Michelle Roberts, director – stakeholder and client engagement at the Infrastructure Health and Safety Association, offered examples of guidelines that had to be established for in-vehicle training, as well as other safe practices to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Subject matter experts pulled together information to deliver a variety of content online.

Those resources, along with a broader commitment to online training, remain today.

3. Digital government records

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation moved to shift many processes and information sources online, and that will have a lasting benefit, said Sean Doussept, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s manager – carrier sanctions and investigations office.

“It allowed us to become fully digital,” he said. “We no longer have paper-based systems for our file management … We’re not sending letters anymore. We have email, text, phone.

“We realized that you can’t ask a business that’s running 24/7 to wait until 8 in the morning.”

Commercial vehicle operator’s registrations (CVORs), for example, can now be renewed online. Abstracts can also be sourced online now, and fees have been eliminated in the process.

In the next 12 months, the ministry expects to have an online process to allow people to apply for their first CVOR, and it’s already piloting digital permits for overweight and over-dimensional loads, he said.

4. A new approach to home offices

Dispatchers and other office staff packed up their laptops and were sent home to work in many cases, but initially there was little thought about how to refine such activities.

“Companies had to pivot,” said Henderson. “We didn’t necessarily look beyond how else can we make that appealing to a workforce.”

The shift also introduced new sources of stress. Roberts, for example, referred to the double duty she faced as an employee and the mother of a 12-year-old. Separating work life and home time was difficult.

But the processes are being refined, and some businesses are now reconsidering the role of traditional offices in their workplaces.

5. Future truck drivers

There’s no question that some truck drivers, facing the struggles and potential of Covid-19, decided to leave the industry. But other job candidates were attracted by the idea of providing an essential service, Henderson says.

“We definitely have higher interest from people,” she said. “It’s just a matter of how quickly we can get them trained.”