Trailer Talk

Snow Doesn’t Stop Poland Spring's ‘Safety Blitz’

Bottled water rides in trailers, and the shipper wants them all shipshape.

April 26, 2016

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Rigs line up for a trailer inspection before proceeding to loading area at the bottler's plant near Hollis, Maine. Photos: Tom Berg
Rigs line up for a trailer inspection before proceeding to loading area at the bottler's plant near Hollis, Maine. Photos: Tom Berg

Shippers in these days of CSA scrutiny are looking closely at the safety performance of the motor carriers they hire to move their products. We found an example early this week west of Portland, Maine, where Poland Spring, a division of Nestlé Waters, is holding a two-day “safety blitz.”

Poland Spring began the event several years ago “to raise safety awareness with the trucking companies we deal with and with drivers directly,” said Billy Brewer, a regional traffic manager. Trailers are the focus because that’s where the bottler’s products are carried. A two-day event is held twice a year, in spring and fall. Company staffers along with fleet supervisors and executives do the inspections.

Among them were Todd Cortier, maintenance manager at Hartt Transportation, a Bangor-based carrier that hauls a lot of Poland Springs water, and the fleet’s safety director, Dave Smiley. They and their company care a lot about running good equipment, so they think the blitzes are a good idea. Cortier told me about them several years ago and I finally made it to one.

Inspectors here looked at what's important to this transportation sector: Trailer landing gear is a major concern because of failures seen in the yard and at loading docks on the premises, said Chris Brewer, a receiving supervisor.

There’s a lot of hook-and-drop activity and that can be hard on landing gear, and there’s been at least one case of gear collapsing when a loaded forklift rolled aboard. Bent braces and legs, missing foot pads and worn gear-drive mechanisms are among the faults watched for.  

Hook and drop operations are hard on landing gear, so they're checks for bent bracing and legs, missing pads and worn gear drives. 
Hook and drop operations are hard on landing gear, so they're checks for bent bracing and legs, missing pads and worn gear drives.

Door operation and seals are also checked, as are the tie-back hooks that hold swing doors open as trailers are backed against docks. Broken or missing hooks let doors flop and one could bop something or somebody nearby. Inspectors frown on non-standard substitutes, like wires or, as happened last year, a string of interior fresheners – Christmas tree scented – Brewer said.

Inspectors also look at rear impact guards, which dock-lock hooks clamp onto, and for holes in floors, walls and ceilings, partly because leaks soil the packaging of the product aboard, which mars Poland Spring's reputation. And such breaches can weaken a trailer’s structural integrity.

Word about the blitzes seems to be getting around. “At first, when we started these, we’d reject 10 or 12 trailers a day,” he said. “Now we don’t see as many problems. Today, we’ve rejected three – two for landing gear and one for a hole in the roof.”

A lot of water flows out of plants at Hollis, where I was, and at Poland, the company’s namesake town that's up the road apiece, where the second day’s blitz was set for Wednesday. About 350 van trailers – virtually every one entering the complex -- go through the lines each day. Actual spring water destined for botteling comes in aboard three-axle tankers, by the way.

Door operation and integrity of walls, floor and roof are among inspection points. Tent at left provided refuge from the wet snow.
Door operation and integrity of walls, floor and roof are among inspection points. Tent at left provided refuge from the wet snow.

You’d think weather would be decent in late April, even in Maine, and usually it is, said people who live here. But on Tuesday it snowed. Yet everyone kept working in the two inspection lanes, checking undercarriages, opening doors and peering inside the vans, then waving drivers off. Each trailer check took just a few minutes.

Meanwhile, under a tent, the temporary staff took turns huddling and standing in front of torpedo heaters, which gnerated steady streams of warm air. Al McKinney, the bottler’s Northeast transportation resource manager, grilled sausages and hamburgers picnic-like; they tasted really good amid falling snow and precipitation dripping from the tent roof. Of course there was Poland Spring water to wash down the chow, and with temps in the low 30s, the water didn’t need icing.

Cortier and Smiley said later that afternoon that they had stopped to help a Hartt driver whose rig got stuck on a hill nearby. A passing municipal plow truck cleared the pavement of the 3 or so inches of snow that had accumulated ahead of the truck, and deposited about a ton and a half of sand. Cortier and Smiley shoveled it under the tractor’s drive wheels, adding enough traction for the rig to resume moving.

“Then the plow truck driver sheared off his wing plow on a bridge abutment,” Smiley chuckled, “and we went and helped him.”

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Author Bio

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Tom Berg

Senior Editor

Journalist since 1965, truck writer and editor since 1978. CDL-qualified; conducts road tests on new heavy-, medium- and light-duty tractors and trucks. Specializes in vocational and hybrid vehicles.

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