The days of job hopping for many may be over, and not only because of what you may be thinking — less freight — but in addition, drivers are going through some rigorous testing to determine if they are fit enough to do the job.
According to the latest regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a driver must not operate a commercial motor vehicle unless he or she is medically certified as physically qualified to do so. This, however, is a minimum standard and allows for companies to further test drivers as they see fit.
The Trucker spoke to former driver Jeana Hysell, president and director of safety at Safety Compliance Professionals. She is an accomplished transportation professional with more than 25 years experience in tractor-trailers, school buses, and working with drivers. She is also a current CDL holder with all endorsements and has logged 2 million miles free of accidents or violations.
Hysell said that slow freight and less driver turnover is not the reason companies are testing more of late; the reason, she said, is worker’s compensation, to keep injuries at a minimum.
“To be fair and not discriminating they are developing these tests with companies that specialize in this in the trucking industry,” Hysell explained. “The FMCSA rules are minimum guidelines. A company can come in and make it more stringent by giving a fitness test. They want to see if a driver can drive across the interstate, lift a hood, or pick up things. It’s all within the legal guidelines. More and more carriers are going to the fit test.”
A driver who only wanted to be identified by her first name, Deborah, contacted The Trucker after quitting an over-the-road job because she only wanted to drive regionally. She’s been a driver since 1996 and has no tickets or accidents, but has not been able to get a job in the Dallas area driving a regional load in a truck.
Deborah said the big companies want her to be able to lift heavy amounts of weight over her head. She’s 5 feet 3 inches tall and 52 years old, she told The Trucker, and not able to lift that much weight above her head, but she can drive a truck and has proven that.
She said that she might have not quit her job if she had known what kind of testing they were doing now at companies, but she was not happy driving long-haul and is hoping to find a regional route job soon. Three of the companies she worked for in the past are out of business.
“I thought with my years of experience and record I wouldn’t have any trouble getting a job,” she said.
Deborah thought that she was being discriminated against when she was asked to lift heavy objects, and it’s possible she was although there’s not enough information to know one way or the other.
When The Trucker told part of Deborah’s story to Hysell, she said that if “a company has a guideline they need to prove that it’s not being used in a discriminatory way.” So as long as the test is fair to all applicants it should be OK.
While it may appear to some that the rule is meant as nothing more than a weeding out process, mostly to keep women off the payroll, it is essential that a person be able to perform the duties for he or she is hired.
“Duties and functions of the job must be able to be accomplished — male or female,” said Wendy Sullivan, RN and vice president of project implementation, DOT Health and Safety Consultative Services. “I often give the example of me being a nurse: whether I’m male or female, I have to be able to perform the job duties of a nurse, period. I have to be able to save a life with my skills. It is really no different for any profession. A job description is a job description.”
Ellen Voie, president and CEO of Women In Trucking, agrees with Sullivan that this is not a move against women.
“Despite the progression in the trucking industry to adopt technology that removes much of the need for strength and stamina, there are still aspects of the job that have physical requirements,” Voie said. “King pins must be pulled, dollies must be cranked and air hoses need to be connected. A driver must be able to climb, crank, lift and push. Carriers protect themselves by setting minimum standards drivers must meet, regardless of their gender. There are men who cannot lift as much as women, and vice versa.
“Since women are typically smaller than men and have less upper arm body strength, some of these standards might appear to favor men, but that is not the case at all,” Voie continued. “In fact, the trucking industry is finally embracing the concept of accommodating women behind the wheel. Those carriers who adopt time- and energy-saving technologies will attract more women and men whose focus should be on delivering their load in the safest manner possible.”
Maverick Transportation, which is a flatbed and specialized hauler, uses a more intense testing regimen because drivers there must be able to secure and tarp loads. But the company also has several female drivers.
Dean Newell, vice president of safety and training at Maverick, walked The Trucker through part of the testing process used at the company. A third-party company, called WorkSTEPS, which includes a physical therapist, puts potential drivers through some tests that include lifting various amounts of weight. If they find the driver is lifting correctly and able to do their tests, they will then send them out into a training area for further testing including lifting tarps and climbing onto trailers and loads.
“They test them on cardio vascular and two different lifts,” Newell said. “If they can’t do it in a controlled environment they can’t do it out there. We make sure they can do this so they don’t get hurt taking the test. We also have a physical agility test to make sure they can do the job and to their benefit so they don’t get hurt.”
Newell explained that the flatbed industry is tougher physically so a lot of the testing Maverick does would not happen at a dry freight hauler, for instance. It is job specific. It’s not about driving, but about the physical labor of flatbed work.
“We have a responsibility to their families,” he added. “I’m not going to put anyone in danger. Ours is specific to flatbed.”
Maverick implemented its physical testing requirements in August 2004. Newell said it was in part because of worker’s compensation, but had more to do with trends — the injuries that were happening with drivers for Maverick. The company wanted to test drivers on doing what they would have to do once they had a load out on the road alone. And according to Newell, all of the large companies are doing similar testing before hiring drivers.
“On 97 to 98 percent of Maverick loads that need to be tarped, the shipper will place the tarp on the trailer/load for the driver with a crane, forklift, etc. [then the driver will have to finish tarping and securing the load], but you have to be able to lift the tar