There are over 3 million truck drivers on U.S. roads at any given time, and Gainesville’s Steve Syfan is trying to keep all of them safe.
Syfan, executive vice president of Syfan Logistics in Gainesville, has spearheaded a movement to cut down on contact between truckers and the shippers and receivers for whom they deliver. The idea is simple: keep the truckers in their trucks.
“These drivers, they’re doing a job that not many people want to do,” Syfan said. “They’re crossing state lines. They’re going state, to state, to state, to state to make sure we have food in our grocery stores. So why would we want the drivers to get out of the truck at any point if any shipper or any receiver could possibly pass or catch something to somebody?”
During a typical delivery, a truck driver experiences numerous opportunities of exposure to other people on both ends of the job.
When the trucker first pulls into a shipper, they normally walk into an office to receive the pick-up information related to the job. The driver makes a similar stop at an office when they arrive at the receiver.
Syfan Logistics trucker Paul Statham said the close quarters contact has always been a part of the job, and sometimes the offices are crowded with multiple drivers picking up or dropping off loads at the same time.
“There's a good bit of contact between the truckers and the customers,” Statham said. “You have to go in and check in with the people depending on where you go. Sometimes there’s a window between the truckers and the customers themselves. Sometimes there’s not.”
There’s even more opportunity for contamination when the driver pulls the truck into a receiver’s facility for unloading.
Each time a trucker collects a haul, a seal is put on the back of the truck to make sure the load is not exposed during the journey. Both the trucker and an employee of the receiver are typically expected to watch the seal being broken to make sure the cargo was not damaged or spoiled in transit.
Most of the time, this does not require much human contact, but often multiple drivers will arrive at the same time, making the process a bit more congested.
“Say like there’s 10 or 12 drivers in there trying to check in at the same time,” Statham said. “You’ve got all these people in the same room together. That’s not safe. If we could eliminate that, that right there would be a definite plus.”
By the end of the job, the trucker has had close interaction with a number of different people from different areas, putting everyone involved at a higher risk of exposure.
“We can stop all that personal touch,” Syfan said. “Think of how many times they do that, times three million a day.”
And the risk extends beyond just the drivers.
Shippers and receivers also see increased chances of infection with new truckers moving about their warehouses every day.
“What would happen if one of the major distributors for a region was shut down because their employee was diagnosed with corona and they had to shut the plant down?” Syfan said. “My answer is we would have to adjust to go to other facilities, and it would disrupt the food supply chain for a period of time. If we weren’t able to buy food at stores, that would be, obviously, catastrophic.”
Syfan’s plan would cut out the vast majority of contact between truckers and workers at shipping and receiving plants. Truckers would stay in their vehicles throughout the process, receiving paperwork electronically when possible and taking it through the window when there is no other alternative.
Shippers and receivers would be responsible for making sure seals are applied upon loading and intact upon arrival, and the drivers themselves would remain inside their vehicles throughout the loading and unloading process.
Syfan said he has talked to Gov. Kemp as well as members of the CDC and many of Syfan Logistics’ customers, and he has received only positive feedback. All that’s left now is spreading the concept around the country, so truckers everywhere are kept safe and deliveries keep coming.
“Nobody is the bad guy in this situation,” Syfan said. “It’s just an idea that I know in my heart would slow down the progression of this transfer of human to human contact. Keep the drivers in the truck to protect, not just the drivers and their families, but where they’re picking up and where they’re delivering also, and those people’s families.”