By Bill Steben
Vice President, Underwriting
Ameriplan Benefit Corp.
This Opinion piece appears in the Nov. 8 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
Earlier this year, American Trucking Associations released a very upbeat forecast for U.S. freight transportation. The volume of freight transported is expected to grow steadily over the next decade, and the trucking industryâ€™s share of the freight shipped is projected to be nearly 82% of freight tonnage by revenue.
Thatâ€™s good news, but motor carriers will be challenged to keep pace with this growth â€” and finding enough drivers to meet demand will be particularly difficult. The search for drivers will be complicated by trucking managementâ€™s need to be mindful of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrationâ€™s new Compliance, Safety and Accountability initiative â€” henceforth to be known simply as CSA â€” with its focus on driver quality at a time when driver quantity already is an issue. Management also will be coping with an aging workforce and a shortage of young new drivers entering the profession.
Many trucking companies will choose to expand their workforce by contracting with owner-operators and independent drivers. Fortunately for everyone concerned, the owner-operator business model is alive, well and very attractive to companies looking to minimize capital investment and achieve the flexibility needed to respond to a fluctuating demand for services. In many cases, motor carriers have company drivers, as well as contracts with fleets and individual owner-operators.
Regardless of how a trucking company goes about building its driver workforce, one of the key responsibilities of risk managers and safety directors is to put an effective work-injury program in place for drivers and other employees. The focus first must be on finding the proper work-injury coverage for their driver force. Next, with the decline in available replacement drivers, it also will be important for each trucking company to develop an aggressive return-to-work plan when injuries do occur.
It is clear that statutory workersâ€™ compensation is the appropriate and required coverage for employee drivers, but the same canâ€™t be said for small fleets and owner-operators. In that situation, occupational accident insurance often is an acceptable â€” and much more affordable â€” option for drivers who are not company employees.
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