"Each year ... we have a number of fatal accidents from the failure of trucks," says J. Davitt McAteer, the assistant U.S. secretary of labor for mine safety and health. Since 1990, MSHA has recorded 17 fatalities involving trucks operated by independent contractors in West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky. Investigations revealed that equipment failures or failure to maintain control of the vehicles contributed to the fatalities.
The coal trucking business is dominated by independent contractors, who are paid by the load and responsible for their own equipment maintenance.
"It's a significant portion of the transportation system and a growing problem," McAteer says. "We're trying to get into the independent trucker sector because they are small operations" and may not have the money for vehicle maintenance, he said.
MSHA decided to offer free inspections to pique driver interest. MSHA is asking truckers to take 30 to 40 minutes out of their day and submit to a risk-free vehicle inspection. No citations will be issued if problems are found.
The pilot program will be conducted in Smithers, Fayette County, on April 5-9 and April 12-16. Inspectors will use a computer-assisted device to check brakes and other components. If the agency deems the pilot a success, it may be expanded to other coal-producing states.