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From decontamination of uniforms and work clothes to keeping their distance from each other, truck drivers and roadside inspectors face increasingly challenging conditions in keeping themselves and the nation’s highways safe in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
During 90-minute webinars on March 23 and March 25, drivers and inspectors heard a variety of suggestions from Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance experts on how to stay safe on the highways and roadside while complying with their regulatory obligations.
As with workers throughout the nation, the job environment for drivers and inspectors is in flux, said Bill Reese, director of cooperative hazardous materials enforcement development for CVSA.
“What we’re trying to do is not overwhelm the health care system,” said Reese, who spent 30 years as an officer with the Idaho State Police, much of that time in hazardous materials enforcement. “We want to flatten out the curve so we don’t have everybody getting the virus at one time, so our health care system can handle it.”
Like the rest of America, inspectors and drivers are being told to stay at least 6 feet apart, frequently wash their hands — and since they both spend time outdoors, to speak to each other in a crosswind to avoid having the airborne virus blow directly on them.
“The bottom line is, clean, clean, clean,” Reese said. “We can still communicate with people, we just can’t be up close and personal. I know this all sounds extreme. But we’re in extreme times.”
As they go about their work, drivers and inspectors were told to wear approved face masks and disposable gloves, as well as personal protective suits and safety glasses if their employers and jurisdictions have them available.
- Those without protective suits should wash their uniforms and work clothes every night and use disposable wipes to decontaminate their boots, shoes and other equipment such as flashlights .
- Disposable gloves are recommended, but should be taken off carefully so as not to come in contact with contaminated substances.
- Inspectors and drivers should shower daily after work.
- Drivers stay in the cab; inspectors stay out of the cab.
- Avoid touching documents, when possible. Drivers should read the documents while using their gloves or hold them against the window. If necessary, inspectors can even take photos, but afterward destroy them to maintain drivers’ privacy.
- Drivers and inspectors should be decontaminated when they are exposed to an individual with the virus, or when they are exposed to an infectious substance leak. In those instances, they may call on help from local fire departments, hazmat teams or departments of health to decontaminate.
When it comes to regulatory authority for the transport of infectious substances and medical coronavirus waste, what inspectors can check at roadside is “pretty limited,” said webinar presenter James Boehringer, president of J.E.B. Environmental Services of Yukon, Okla.
The federal government is requiring that medical or infectious substances be labeled as Biological Substances, Category B, Boehringer said. Drivers and inspectors cannot open such shipments but are required to check to see that they are labeled correctly, he said. Instead of opening boxes, they must accept that the shipper is acting “in good faith,” Reese said.
Although truck drivers carrying shipments related to the virus generally are exempt from hours-of-service requirements, inspectors may have some discretion over loads carrying both coronavirus-related goods and those unrelated to the virus.
“The bottom line is the driver does not have to carry anything that says it’s one of those coronavirus loads,” Boehringer said. “Say the majority of a semi-trailer is loaded with grocery items and toilet paper, and you have a couple palates of something else on the back. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is not concerned about those couple of palates.”
Boehringer added, “What they are concerned with, though, is somebody that has a load of building materials not critical to anything, and they throw a case of water in the back. That kind of stuff just doesn’t cut it. Really, it’s going to come down to a judgment call.”
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