As serious as a wheel-off

TORONTO, Ont. – Wheel separations are 100% preventable if a proper pre-check inspection is being done. That was the clear message by presenters during a special seminar hosted by the Toronto Trucking Association on April 19 which covered the scary and deadly topic of wheel separations. Robert Monster, vehicle standards engineer with the Ministry of Transportation, Sargent Scott Parker of the Ontario Provincial Police and Rolf VanderZwaag, the manager of maintenance and technical issues at the Ontario Trucking Association all took to the podium to discuss the facts and trends of wheel-offs and what can be done to prevent them in the future.

The number one cause of wheel separations by and large, explained Monster, are failed wheel fasteners. “About 80-90% of wheel separations are caused by the fasteners,” he said. “Bearings would be the next one, and having a cracked wheel…that’s very low. What sticks out is wheel fasteners and it’s probably the most preventable defect.”

Monster said that if a proper pre-check inspection is being done by drivers, these dangerous fasteners would be caught before they become anywhere close to causing the wheel to separate. “Wheels separations don’t occur instantly,” Parker stressed. “It takes time for a wheel to separate. All ten fasteners don’t fail at the same time.

So, I’m asking you the industry how is this happening?” The answer to that, rather, what’s speculated the most according to Monster and Parker, are subpar pre-trip inspections where drivers skip the tires and wheels entirely. This speculation holds water when you look at another trend that both Monster and Parker found.

“Most wheel-offs happen in the month of January and the winter months,” said Monster. The likely reason being, he explained, is drivers rushing through the pre-check in the frigid temperatures that come with the winter months in Ontario. “When you’re inspecting your truck in the morning and its -20 and snowing, is the truck going to get as much of an inspection than when it’s 20 degrees and sunny?,” he asked. “Probably not.”

Last year according to the OPP statistics, which Parker prefaced by saying “Just like any other crime, I know there are more instances than those that are reported,” there was 74 wheel separations in Ontario alone. And this number is pretty steady, despite the hefty consequences that wheel-offs can bring Parker said. “Prevention starts with the driver,” Parker said. “It’s all there and it’s being missed and it’s being missed seasonally.”

Parker said that to prevent wheel separations in your own fleet, it is crucial to have an open communication policy between drivers and staff and management. “Drivers need to know what state the equipment is in,” he said. “They need to know when the wheels were last off that trailer. Because we’ll ask them if there’s a wheel-off investigation.

We’ll ask them when the last time there was a torque check done. So the drivers need to have that communicated to them.” At the same time, Parker said, it’s important to listen to drivers too.

If a driver goes to management or a maintenance worker and says his or her vehicle is unsafe to drive and are told to drive it anyway, and a wheel separation occurs, that manager or worker can be held accountable. To prevent wheel separations, VanderSwaag echoed that proper pre-trips are key. He added that if you’re not the driver, but the owner of the business, or are in charge of maintenance, it’s important not to save money when it comes to buying wheel nuts.

“It’s all about the quality and characteristics of wheel nuts,” said VanderSwaag. “Buy a brand name, buy a nut that’s marked so you know the manufacturer, so if two months later, if something happens, you know who to reach out to.” He also added to ensure that during install, steps aren’t missed. “The number one problem with hub piloted wheels, when it comes to installation is they don’t lubricate…The manufacturers of hub piloted wheels have said from day one, lubricate the treads, lubricate the washer…this is the most overlooked step when I watch guys doing the install.

If you’re guys are doing this, you’re going to have problems.

It’s so simple.”

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