February 20, 2010

FEATURE | Roadbuilding & Surveying

Hours-of-service rules leave roadbuilders in a bind

The B.C. Road Builders and Heavy Construction Association and the Canadian Construction Association (CCA) are challenging the federal government over the definition of an inter-provincial carrier.

The main beef is how a cross-border carrier is defined and how it affects their work hours.

If a trucker crosses a provincial border one time, they are classified as an inter-provincial carrier and are then subject to federal legislation, as well as being prohibited from provincial exemptions.

“We’ve raised our voices and said this doesn’t work for us,” said roadbuilders president Jack Davidson.

Instead, the 230-member organization, representing privatized highway maintenance contractors, construction contractors, underground/utility contractors, paving contractors and service and supply companies, wants the definition of an inter-provincial carrier to be a company that does more than 25 per cent of its work outside of B.C.

Once a company is classified as an inter-provincial carrier, it’s subject to the federal legislation, which restricts the number of hours that employees can work. The maximum daily number of hours one can drive are 13 and no one can work more than 14 hours of on-shift time.

And if the worker has to drive home, they cannot exceed 16 hours for the day.

For example, if they work 14 hours, their drive time to work and back home cannot be more than an hour each way.

Adopted by the federal government in 2007 and based on U.S. studies, the hours limitations were meant to protect the public from the dangers posed by long-haul truckers.

“The intent wasn’t to regulate our industry. It was to cover long-haul truckers driving 13 or 14 hours a day,” said Bill Ferreira, the CCA’s director of government relations and public affairs.

“It’s dealing with people who get behind the wheel who spend numerous hours doing repetitive work,” he said of the Teamsters-led initiative.

Most roadbuilding and heavy construction workers don’t drive for 12 straight hours.

They’ll make a one-hour drive to a gravel pit, wait while the truck is loaded, drive back to the work site and repeat that several times in a shift.

Total driving time for the day could be maybe six hours, certainly not the 13 the federal regulations stipulate.

“The problem is, it captures our truckers. Our guys aren’t doing this,” Davidson said.

When the federal hours of service were unveiled, organizations in many provinces brought in exemptions for their industries.

Exemptions don’t apply to companies working on federal projects.

In B.C., if a trucker was operating within 30 kilometres of a work site or the gross vehicle weight is 4,500 kilograms or less, they were not affected.

But the exemptions became toothless once the rule came into effect that stated federal regulations would govern a carrier once they cross a provincial border.

It’s become a problem for B.C. companies bidding on Alberta projects or for companies buying at auction in Alberta which suddenly find themselves considered an inter-provincial carrier.

Enforcement of cross border truck traffic rests with the provinces, and so far has been soft, Ferreira said.

Truckers are usually given a warning the first time.

But weigh scale visits, logs, waybills and audits reveal the extent of travel.

While the CCA and B.C. roadbuilders don’t object to standards that address safety, they are lobbying the federal government to allow for extended work hours, similar to what’s existed in Newfoundland since 2008, Ferreira said.

Instead of the 70 maximum hours per week, currently allowed in most provinces, the CCA is asking for 80 hours maximum per week.

For two weeks, it wants to bump up the time to Newfoundland’s benchmark of an 140-hour biweekly maximum from the 120 hours maximum.

Workers should also be allowed to work six days per week via a schedule that will accommodate the 36-hour reset.

These are reasonable requests Ferreira said, because road building may not begin until mid-May and usually finishes by mid-October.

Within that constricted time frame, extra hours are necessary to ensure the work gets done.

The further impediment of federal hours of service can conceivably add to project costs.

Last year, wet weather in Eastern Canada delayed road work and it was a frenzied rush to make up for lost time, Ferreira said from Ottawa.

There are also exceptions when members do exceed hours of service, particularly with catastrophic failures or natural disasters, Ferreira said

“If a road is closed such as the Sea-to-Sky Highway, it’s important you open that as quickly as possible,” he said, adding crews often work round-the-clock to do just that.

Aware of these situations, the CCA continues to ask the federal government to exempt roadbuilders from the federal hours of service regulations, but Ferreira isn’t holding his breath.

“We’ve been working all along with government to try and educate regulators about the difference between short haul and long haul,” he said.

He’s hoping for a decision from the government sometime this spring.

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