DOT warns about fraudulent letters seeking bank information

Click here to see a copy of the letter.

Click here to see a copy of the letter.

Carriers should be on the lookout for fraudulent letters appearing to be from “Equifax Credit Information Services — Government division,” said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration this week in letters issued to its field offices.

The letters will be dated July 11, 2014, and signed by Thad Brown, FMCSA says, and they seek to obtain banking information for the companies targeted.

It states that the “records show” the letter recipients are “registered as a prospective contractor for procurements issued by” the federal government, and that financial information is needed to proceed.

Anyone who receives the letter is encouraged by FMCSA to contact tom.frazier@dot.gov or bob.thomasson@dot.gov, who are in the agency’s investigative support unit.

Editor’s note: This post was originally written by James Jaillet, Associate Editor at Overdrive Online.

OSHA official: Further increase in construction deaths likely; triggered by uptick in activity, less-experienced workers

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If it seems like you’re hearing about a lot more construction-related deaths lately, you’re not alone. Anyone who pays close attention to news concerning the industry has likely noticed reports of construction worker deaths in the U.S. have come across the wire at a consistent click so far this year.

Officials with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration have taken notice as well.

“We recently investigated deaths at jobsites in Kansas City, Missouri; Framingham, Massachusetts; Brookhaven, Georgia; Bellevue, Washington and Albuquerque, New Mexico,” said Dean McKenzie, the deputy director of OSHA’s directorate for construction.

“And that was just one week.”

And the frequency of deaths hasn’t been limited to the national perspective. At least three regions of the U.S. this year have seen a concentrated amount of construction-related deaths in a short period of time.

According to a recent report from the Sun-Sentinel, four construction workers have been killed in the last month in Broward County, Florida. And in May, the deaths of four construction workers in a span of four days spurred the California arm of OSHA to launch a special investigation across jobsites in and around San Francisco.

Finally, earlier this month, OSHA sent extra enforcement staff to North Dakota due to a rash of worker deaths in the oil and gas and construction industries. The 34 worker deaths since 2012 have accounted for 84 percent of all workplace deaths in North Dakota.

Despite the apparent increase in construction death reports, there are no hard numbers for 2014 or 2013 to verifty the notion just yet. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is tasked with keeping a tally of workplace deaths in its annual Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (COFOI). These numbers come out twice for each year: a preliminary tally of the previous year is released in October with the finalized numbers landing the next April. The main reason these reports take so long to tabulate is that they’re very thorough. McKenzie explained that the CFOI pulls from multiple sources to tally construction deaths and must confirm each one in at least two ways, be it through a morgue report or investigation of the incident itself.

That means the most up-to-date figure we have is the final report for 2012 which was released just a few months ago in April. We won’t even know the preliminary 2013 figures until this October. And our first look at 2014′s numbers won’t come until October 2015. So we talked with McKenzie to gain a bit of insight on OSHA’s expectation regarding whether construction deaths have increased or not in the last two years.

In 2012, 806 construction workers died on the job, according to the 2012 CFOI. McKenzie said that number alone was enough to get OSHA’s attention as it represented a 9 percent gain over 2011′s total of 738 deaths and the first increase in six years.

McKenzie said construction workers represent about 7 percent of the total U.S. workforce. But according to the 2012 CFOI, they account for 17 pecent of all workplace deaths. That knowledge combined with a upward trend in residential construction deaths (the number rose from 72 to 89 in 2012) has OSHA officals “concerned.”

“We have been aware of trends in residential between 2011 and 2012. And from what we’ve been able to gather from 2013, we’re concerned,” McKenzie said.

Despite no hard numbers from the BLS to back it up, McKenzie said the theory that construction deaths have increased in the last couple of years is logical and actually has historical basis.

“We’ve seen the industry come around a bit during the great recession and we’ve seen the housing starts continue to climb and construction activity in general is growing,” he said. “And logic would tell you the fatalaties will continue to climb alongside activity.”

McKenzie said an increase in construction-related deaths in the past two years would also likely also related to more inexperienced workers entering the industry.

“The increase of construction activity is a normal cycle and we’ve been able to historically document that after a downturn in the market and work picks back up you get a lot of people going back into an early workplace market,” he said. “And just because you go in doesn’t mean you have the experience and training to be in that role.”

In the wake of the recession, thousands upon thousands of skilled tradesmen walked away from the industry for good, retiring or finding more stable work in other industries such as oil and gas. A survey done last year by the Associated General Contractors of America found that 74 percent of contractors in the U.S. are having trouble finding skilled workers.

As far as how the agency is responding to these concerns, McKenzie noted its fall prevention efforts as one example. Now in its third year, the campaign was the focus of a recent National Safety Stand-Down. Running June 2-6, construction companies across the country spent the week talking about fall prevention and studying free education and training resources provided by OSHA. More than a quarter of construction-related deaths in 2012, 281, were caused by falls, McKenzie said.

As far as responding more localized concerns, McKenzie said that while it can be hard for the national agency to be quite as agile as it would like to be in those cases, the regional agencies are a big help in that regard as was seen in the rash of deaths in the San Francsisco area.

“But we do try to push as many buttons for these issues as we can,” he said, noting the national agency’s response to the collapse of a building undergoing demolition in Philadelphia that killed six people last year. McKenzie said the agency worked with the city’s government officials to “help them rewrite their permitting requirements to make sure the engineering surveys and the requirements of our standards were implemented as much as they could be in their city codes.” The agency also hosted training for city and government workers and continues to work with the city on the issue.

He noted another case that came late last year when the agency stepped in during the demolition of a three-and-a-half-story building in Connecticut that had the potential of collapsing. “It was a brick building built in the early 1900s that they were trying to rehabilitate. The contractor had taken all the interior floor joists that tie the building together so all he had was a brick box,” McKenzie said. “Compliance officers called our engineering office to get our support on how weak this structure would really be and we shut it down until the job could be done safely.

McKenzie said the agency also keeps an eye out for big events that could increase construction work in a particular region. “In Denver after a large hailstorm recently, thousands of roofs had to be replaced,” he said. “We sent our compliance officers in and, it was incredible, they simply stood on a hill and scanned the rooftops and could see dozens and dozens of roofs being worked on and no one had fall protection on.”

McKenzie asked contractors to “pay attention” and stressed the importance of having a safety plan in place.

“Rates came down and fatalities were down in 2010 and 2011 and we liked seeing those numbers. This is an opportunity for us to dedicate more energy to protecting workers and eliminating some of these hazards,” he said. “But a good safety plan is good for your bottom line, it’s good for profit and it’s good for worker retention.”

This article was written by Wayne Grayson, Online Managing Editor of Equipment World.

Senate passes highway bill, vote sent back to house

US-capitol-building-Better-RoadsThe Senate has voted to pass a bill that would keep money flowing into the Highway Trust Fund for at least a few more months. The bill was in response to one that the House passed earlier in July.

There were key legislation changes to the bill passed by the Senate which means a vote will be sent back to the House. Most importantly the Senate reduced the $10.8 million bill to just $8.1 million. The House’s bill would have kept things running through May 2015, the new bill would maybe make it through December.

The Senate voted 66-31 to reduce the bill. The vote to pass the bill was 79-18.

The House will be forced to make a quick decision to either pass the bill or send it back to the Senate. Congress’ summer recess begins Friday, August 1st. The House is not expected to pass the bill.

“I just want to make clear: If the Senate sends a highway bill over here with those provisions, we’re just going to strip it out,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said. 

If both sides can’t agree on a new bill, the HTF is expected to run dry within the next month or so.

Oopsie! DOT forgets to spellcheck interstate sign

Nobody’s perfect! Not even the folks who handle signage for the Department of Transportation. The North Carolina DOT was so excited to open up its new flyover bridge from Johnston Road to Interstate 485, that it might have forgotten to run spellcheck on the new signage.

The original sign with Pineville misspelled. (Christine Nelson/WBTV)

The original sign with Pineville misspelled. (Christine Nelson/WBTV)

As you can see from the picture above, the sign originally read “Pinevllie” instead of the correct spelling, “Pineville.”

Once the local media took notice of the spelling error, the NCDOT quickly fixed the sign. It was fixed within 36 hours.

The sign was quickly fixed. (Christine Nelson/WBTV)

The sign was quickly fixed. (Christine Nelson/WBTV)

Let that be a lesson for everyone: It doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in, it’s always a good idea to spellcheck!

Daimler, Volvo report higher sales, profit in second quarter

photo_vnl-daycab-at-dock-500x269Daimler reported this week that second quarter revenue in its truck segment were mostly flat at $10.74 billion compared to the same period last year, while profits jumped 5 percent to $612 million.

Volvo in its earnings call reported a 44 percent increase in deliveries through June, while Mack, which Volvo owns, reported a 24 percent increase in deliveries.

Worldwide for Daimler, truck sales of 126,100 trucks were 2 percent higher than in the prior-year period. Truck sales in the U.S., Canada and Mexico climbed 18 percent to 41,100 units, giving the company a 36 percent market share in classes 6-8.

“From today’s perspective, global demand for medium- and heavy-duty trucks in the year 2014 can only be expected at around the level of last year,” Daimler said in a statement. “With the exception of the North American market, difficult conditions are still anticipated for most of the major markets.”

The ongoing replacement of aging fleets have pushed heavy truck sales for much of the year, but Volvo President and CEO Olof Persson says the market has only now begun to grow.

Through June, the total North American retail market for heavy-duty trucks increased 10 percent to 122,989 units.

“I think one important fact with the North American market right now is that up until now or up until recently that’s been a replacement markets. So we haven’t seen any growth in the market,” Persson says looking back at the company’s first six months of 2014. “But now we do see a sort of an expansion also into new and expansion of fleets and so on and so forth. And that is of course much driven by the economy development in the market and therefore, it will have a lot to do with the GDP going forward in the North American and U.S. in particular, how that is developing and I think that will be a correlation back to as it normally is between GDP freight volumes and also expansion or contraction in the North America market and we will see how that develops.”

Paccar, which owns Peterbilt and Kenworth, is set to release its quarterly earnings next week. Navistar-International reports on a different schedule than the other manufacturers.

This article was written by Jason Cannon, Online Managing Editor for Truck Parts and Service and its sister site, Successful Dealer.

Prices of construction materials on the rise

ConstructionOverall prices of construction materials are on the rise according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Labor. Prices increased by 0.1 percent in June and are up 1.9 percent from one year ago.

“Prices for inputs to construction industries have now risen in five of the year’s first six months,” said Associated Builders and Contractors Chief Economist Anirban Basu. “This marks a significant departure from the previous year’s remarkable stability.”

“Recent monthly gains have been modest—0.1 percent in June and unchanged in May; however, the surprisingly upbeat economic news from China (Chinese GDP grew 7.5 percent in the second quarter), along with a slew of large construction starts in specific regions of the U.S., suggest that prices may continue to rise—albeit modestly— through the second half of 2014.”

Crude energy materials prices expanded 1.2 percent in June and are 6 percent higher than one year ago. Natural gas prices fell 1.5 percent in June and have now fallen in three of the past four months.

The following materials also saw a price increase:

• Crude petroleum prices increased 3.2 percent in June and are up 5.6 percent from June 2013.

• Crude energy materials prices expanded by 1.2 percent in June and are 6.0 percent higher year-over-year.

• Softwood lumber prices expanded 2.3 percent and are 7.3 percent higher than one year ago.

• Concrete products prices expanded 0.4 percent in June and are up 3.5 percent on a yearly basis.

• Steel mill products prices rose 0.5 percent for the month and are 4.1 percent higher than one year ago.

However, not everything saw a price rise in June. The following materials saw a bit of a decline:

• Prices for prepared asphalt, tar roofing, and siding declined 1 percent for the month and are down 6.6 percent on a year-over-year basis.

• Fabricated structural metal product prices remained flat for the month but have increased 1.3 percent on a year-over-year basis.

• Iron and steel prices declined 0.2 percent in June but are up 4.6 percent from the same time last year.

• Natural gas prices shed 1.5 percent in June but are 12.9 percent higher than one year ago.

To read the full report, click here.

The state with the best roads in the country is...

Florida_State_Road_17_northern_segment_scenic_lake_viewAccording to a report from the Washington Post, the state with the best roads in the country is …Florida!

The report says only four percent of Florida’s 121,000+ miles road are in need of work. That’s way below the nation’s average of 14 percent. And since the Sunshine State has such good roads, local drivers save an estimated $300 a year in car maintenance compared to the rest of the country.

There are two big reasons why Florida has nicer roads than any other state.

1: Tolls and gas taxes.

Around 36 cents per gallon is added for drivers who fill up in the state of Florida. That money, plus tolls and other fees, are put together to account for 68.8 percent of the state’s transportation funds.

2: Weather.

Florida’s warm weather is road-friendly compared to colder climates that lead to cracks and huge potholes.

Anne Ferro out as FMCSA administrator

Anne FerroFederal Motor Carrier Safety Administration head Anne Ferro will be stepping down from her position as administrator of the agency, the Department of Transportation announced July 25.

An exact date for her departure has not been set, but according to a note she circulated to colleagues this morning, she said she will be leaving “towards the end of August.”

Ferro will be assuming the role of president and CEO at the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Ferro was a “true leader” in her 5-year tenure.

“Under Anne’s leadership, FMCSA has ushered in a new culture of safety into the commercial bus and trucking industries.  She has made it more difficult for companies that jeopardize the public’s well-being to stay in business and easier for consumers to make informed choices when choosing a shipper or buying a bus ticket,” Foxx said in an email to his staff. ”It is a legacy we are proud to continue.  In addition, Anne’s infectious enthusiasm for our work and our people has made DOT an even better place to work.”

Ferro, too, said she worked to “raise the bar for safety” while in her role at the DOT. She assumed the position in 2009. She said while under her watch, the agency strengthened its oversight of high-risk trucking and bus companies  and tried to advocate changing the driver pay model from per-mile to per-time model.

“I hope you are proud of the life-saving work you accomplish and look forward to tackling more tough challenges ahead,” she said in an email to her colleagues. “I certainly am proud to have served as your administrator.  You are professionals united in a single mission — to save lives — and I encourage you to continue to rely on each other’s strengths and redouble your energy toward that highest of goals.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association called for Ferro’s resignation last month, penning a three-page letter to Foxx asking him to ask her to step down. OOIDA said Ferro had shown “a clear bias” against the trucking industry in recent months, both in how she prioritized agency rulemakings and in language she used at Congressional hearings.

OOIDA released this statement July 25 from President and CEO Jim Johnston:

“We would like to congratulate the administrator on her new position and wish her well as she leads the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. She is well known for having unprecedented personal outreach and engagement with truckers in all the years that we have worked with the agency.”

The American Trucking Associations’ released this statement from President and CEO Bill Graves:

“In her time with FMCSA, Administrator Ferro was a passionate advocate for the agency. We wish her well in her new role at the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and look forward to working with her on commercial driver licensing issues.”

Editor’s note: This article was originally written by James Jaillet, Associate Editor of Overdrive Online.

DOT looks to improve crude oil transportation

crude oil tanks railThe U.S. Department of Transportation would like to start phasing out old tank cars used transport crude oil by rail, among other measures to improve the safety of crude oil transportation by rail. The DOT proposed a two-year phase-out plan that would primarily focus on discontinuing older model DOT-111 tank cars, long known to be vulnerable to failure in derailments, from crude oil and ethanol service.

The DOT would also like to advance safety measures by upgrading tank cars with thicker steel shells, electronic braking and rollover protections.

As part of the proposal, the department would like the maximum speed allowed to be 40 mph in in all areas for trains operating older tank cars, and in areas with more than 100,000 residents. Tank cars meeting new safety requirements would be allowed to travel 50 mph in urban areas.

The public has 60 days to respond to the DOT’s proposed rules.

Road worker killed while picking up construction cones

Freightliner trash truckDylan Joseph Snyder was killed in Kansas after being hit by a trash truck.  Snyder, 22, was picking up road construction cones and signs when the truck rear ended one vehicle and sideswiped two others stopped for the construction.

After hitting the vehicles, the truck struck Snyder who was airlifted to Christi Medical Center’s St. Francis campus where he died.

Jonathan Marcus Yoder, 36, was driving the 2008 Freightliner trash truck. He first rear ended a 2012 Chevrolet Impala driven by Cynthia S. Nelson, 41, that was stopped behind two road construction vehicles. The truck then sideswiped Snyder’s unoccupied 2008 Chevrolet Colorado. Snyder’s car was parked in the road behind a 2008 Ford F650.

The driver of the Ford F650, David A. Holzknecht, 21, wasn’t hurt, but David R. Holloway Jr., 24, was injured. He was in the back of the truck stacking signs and cones being passed up by Snyder.

Nelson and Holloway were treated at a local hospital, but neither were seriously hurt.

Yoder, who was wearing his seat belt, didn’t suffer any serious injuries either.

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