I received a call from a Red Book member the other day that happened to be a truck broker. He was telling me that he was about to quit dealing in the produce business because of the number of claims he had encountered recently. He cited as an example, a load of mixed private label leafy items that he put on an owner-operator who usually hauls meat. He said that he specifically told the driver that the load was to be hauled at 34 degrees. This was also noted on the bills. He said that when the load arrived at the receiver's, it was completely frozen. They pulled the temperature recorder and found that the driver had run the reefer at 20 degrees for 36 hours. The result was a $50,000 claim. The broker wanted to know what he could have done differently, and to be honest, the only thing I could think of was for him not to have used that driver.
This is simply an example of a driver who made an amateurish mistake and froze a very expensive load. There are many other claims that occur with produce loads that could be avoided if a few routine steps are taken before the load is placed on the truck. It is absolutely essential that you know what you're doing with produce commodities.
As a driver hauling produce, you are ultimately responsible for gaining the knowledge you need to haul successfully and avoid claims. How do you gain this knowledge? Like anything else, you need to ask questions regarding the load if there is something that you don't understand or on which you are not quite clear. In most cases, if you don't ask, no one is going to tell you. I've had teachers tell me, "Better to ask what you think might be a stupid question than not to ask at all." The only difference was that my questions didn't have a $50,000 price tag attached like those of a produce hauler.
I attended a class put on by Allen Lund Co. of Los Angeles, CA and I am now, believe it or not, a "certified refrigerated transporter." Drivers were urged to call their broker or dispatcher when a problem, a potential problem or a question arises. You, as the carrier, are the eyes and ears of your broker and/or dispatcher. Anything that you detect that could be even slightly out of whack should be reported. I hear constantly that some drivers are afraid they might lose the load if they question the shipper about the product or procedures. The potential is there to lose the load if you are dealing with a shipper who is easily irritated. I, however, believe that most shippers in this industry would rather correct a problem than give the carrier a hard time about calling it to their attention. Remember that without your trucks to get their product to market, it rots.
Another common item in produce trucking today is the checklist. Many of the trucking companies and owner-operators that I talk to have created their own checklist that they follow religiously before loading. I recommend this, as it is easy to forget or overlook something when so many things are going on at the shipping point. Beyond this, many trucking companies give their produce haulers various instructional courses. Learning how to identify some of the many problems that can occur could save a company thousands of dollars a year in claims.
A knowledgeable produce hauler is a valuable commodity. There are plenty of loads available for someone who knows what to do, what not to do and how to handle a problem associated with produce loads. If you know how to haul produce, will you never have a claim? That's not what I'm saying. Know how to recognize a problem. Pulp the product. Run with a recording tape. Watch the product being loaded and make sure there are no crushed boxes that you'll be dinged for later. Listen to your brokers' and/or dispatchers' instructions. Make sure you have proper airflow for the load. Carry a roll of duct tape in case you develop a tear in your chute. Go over the checklist before you get ready to roll. These things are done by knowledgeable produce drivers. If you are hauling produce and are not using these methods and procedures, it's never too late to change. LL