Bottom Line
Stuck between a rock and an A-frame
OOIDA members push for stronger regulations for securing loads of flat stone

By Jami Jones and Paul Abelson
Land Line staff

Hauling granite and marble isn’t easy, and it certainly isn’t safe with the collective blind eye that the feds turn to certain cargo securement.

Truckers who make a living hauling granite, marble and other flat, heavy materials are quickly learning that the new cargo securement regs handed down last year are lacking, to say the least.

One who knows this to be very true is OOIDA member Steve Mosbrucker from Kahlotus, WA.

Mosbrucker was picking up a load of granite in Seattle March 22, 2004, as he had many times before. He said everything was pretty much standard operating procedure: The crew of Pental Marble set up the A-frame and started loading the granite.

“This particular A-frame was too short for the slabs they were putting on, so they extended it with two-by-fours,” Mosbrucker said. 

Mosbrucker said the crew worked about 30 minutes, taping the wood extensions to the A-frame, and proceeded to load it up. The load made the 280-mile trip. When he arrived, the receiver didn’t have Mosbrucker park in the usual spot. Instead, he was told to park for unloading in a spot that wasn’t quite level.

“I really didn’t like it,” Mosbrucker said. But there was a crew ready to start unloading.

The load had been secured with two straps all the way around the granite to hold it to the A-frame. When the first strap was released, Mosbrucker saw some movement.

“The next thing I knew, somebody was telling me not to move,” Mosbrucker said.

The granite had knocked him from the trailer. As the granite fell flat on the trailer it shattered. Some pieces landed on Mosbrucker.

He had seven orbital fractures, a broken jaw, a compressed left shoulder, a hip injury and deep scrapes to his left leg just below the knee.

His cheekbone was put back together with reconstructive surgery, and over time – with more than 10 weeks off the road – he’s recovered for the most part.

“I still have pain in my shoulder and right hip,” he said. “My jaw even hurts every once in awhile.”

Mosbrucker knows he is very lucky he wasn’t killed. 

Others haven’t been so fortunate. Shifting slabs of rock have killed two people in the past few months, one in Utah and one in Indiana.

Drivers hauling stone slabs should take extra care to make sure the A-frames are the proper size and strength for the load. Some things to check for include:

  • Cracked welds on metal frames;
  • Cracked structural members;
  • Bent structural members;
  • Splits in wooden supports;
  • Wooden supports built with nails, instead of screws; and
  • Examine modifications to ensure integrity.

If anything does not appear to be structurally sound, drivers should refuse the A-frames and request the shipper to supply an adequate A-frame. Remember, it is the driver’s responsibility under the regulations that the load be properly secured, and the A-frames are part of that.

The regulations
Theoretically, A-frames would have been addressed in the “new” cargo securement rules released by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration late last year. But they weren’t.

The common sense of load securement is to prevent motion in any direction. Shifting cargo unbalances trucks, leading to tipovers. Loose cargo can fall off trucks, wreaking havoc on the highways. 

About a decade ago, there was a rash of accidents in Toronto and around Buffalo, NY. Ontario enacted a policy of strict liability and increased fines to $50,000 (Canadian) for cargo loss. 

These incidents also led the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators to initiate research to develop effective and uniform cargo securement regulations in 1994. John Siebert of the OOIDA Foundation took part in the development process. 

In 1997, the proposal was delivered to the joint Canada/U.S. Standards Harmonization Committee. The Mexican government agreed to abide by any regulations adopted by its northern neighbors. By January 1999, a draft model regulation was presented, and by May 1999, a final proposed model regulation was agreed to.

The proposed regs incorporated detailed scientific specifications. Everything from direct and indirect tiedowns to the angle of the tiedowns was specified. The proposal was crafted with the full intent of preventing cargo loss and improving safety. 

Canada accepted the model regulation into law by reference; the United States couldn’t do that. Instead, FMSCA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in December 2000. There was a comment period and hearings. FMCSA’s final rule, issued September 2002, left out some critical elements. The weakened version became effective in the states in January 2004. Canada accepted the U.S. regulations last September, effective this July.

References to geometry were removed; regulators felt it impractical for enforcement personnel to carry protractors and measuring equipment. The requirement for weight limit markings on tie-down devices was deleted.

Also left out were regulations on A-frame design, strength, etc., with no mention of hauling flat stone.

Working for change
Charlie Parfrey, owner of the company Mosbrucker is leased to and a member of the OOIDA board of directors, has tried to get several federal agencies to address the problems with A-frames.

Parfrey said that one FMCSA staffer went so far as to tell him that the agency probably would not revisit cargo securement anytime soon.

So with FMCSA doing little to address the issue of inadequate A-frame and lack of regulation in this segment of the industry, Parfrey took up the battle with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. 

At first, Parfrey’s pleas for help fell on deaf ears. A letter from OSHA essentially blew off the whole situation with Mosbrucker – because he was a contractor and not an employee and therefore not within the agency’s jurisdiction.

Eventually, because of the pressure Parfrey placed on the agency – with the help of a group of interested individuals from the trucking industry – the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act, the state equivalent of OSHA, issued a “hazard alert” concerning the dangers of granite and marble transport racks.

While it could be considered a victory, the alert doesn’t implement new regulations regarding design or integrity of A-frames used in stone slab hauling.

For the time being, there are some steps truckers can take to protect themselves while hauling stone slabs. (See inset box)

But there may still be hope as neither Parfrey nor Mosbrucker are willing to let governing agencies continue to ignore what they consider to be a regulatory oversight that is threatening the safety and lives of truckers.

jami_jones@landlinemag.com
truckwriter@anet.com