While there is not a high frequency of claims related to trailers, when they happen they can be pretty severe and lead to big-dollar claims, according to ARA Insurance Preferred Agent Joe Potthast, co-principal agent and account executive, Foundation Insurance, Falls Church, Va.
How significant can the claims be? Well, Potthast says that while it varies from year to year, it’s not unusual for the ARA Insurance program to receive two or three policy-limit claims in a given year from trailer accidents.
“That may not sound like a big number, but when you are talking about claims that go all the way up through the underlying policy limit, and often into an umbrella policy, that is a fairly substantial number for one type of claim. It is a type of claim that can put the business in jeopardy,” he says.
That is why Potthast looks for an intentional program around trailer rental and use when he visits his insured clients. “If you have a set program that is written and trained on for new hires and at regular intervals for existing staff, you get more consistency and better documentation, which almost always results in a better safety culture,” he says.
Within that program, Potthast looks to see how often trailers are maintained and inspected. He also looks at the training component, which would include hitching the trailer, loading and unloading the trailer as well as taking it in and out of the rental field.
Regarding these elements, Potthast recommends the following:
Maintenance: “We want to see regular maintenance done, which is dependent on usage and on how often it goes out on rent. All of that should be tracked in an operation’s maintenance logs. There also should be a protocol for how often tire tread and other areas need to be checked,” he says.
Inspections: “Trailers should be inspected every time they come back from rent and before they go out on rent. They need to be checked for damage and maintenance issues,” he says.
Training: “We are looking for consistent training for new hires and at certain intervals after that for everyone. It should be refreshed and revisited periodically so everyone is in keeping with what the protocols should be,” he says.
- Hitching: “There are tools that rental operators can use for making sure the right hitch and ball are used and aligned properly. Some rental operators color-code their ball and hitches. We want to make sure people are paying attention to that because a lot of the bigger accidents do relate to a trailer coming unhitched or not functioning, interrupting traffic and causing an accident,” he says.
- Loading and unloading: “Equipment needs to be tied down properly so nothing falls off the trailer and causes an accident. The other element has to do with equipment exceeding the height requirements the driver has for the route. If a piece of equipment is too high, it can hit an overpass. We need rental operations to have a deliberate and consistent set safety plan for this aspect,” he says. “If the customer is loading or hitching the trailer, the customer should do it every time. If your staff does it every time, you should continue to do that. Having a set way is important so there is a consistency factor.”
- Backing up: “There is training required from a driving perspective for how to drive properly with a large trailer in tow. A CDL [commercial driver’s license] might be required if it is a large enough load. If in a parking lot or crowded job site, rental operators should have someone out of the vehicle spotting them because they are not in a normal roadway situation, but in an enclosed area,” he says.
While Potthast knows that trailers can be a great addition to a rental operation’s inventory, everyone in the operation has to be aware of the risks and take the proper safety measures so accidents and injuries do not occur. “When you add a trailer, you have another element as far as potential claims,” he says.