Darius Cooper is a firm believer that if you want to haul steel for a living, you don't just follow standard safety requirements — you exceed them. “We've taken the minimum Dept. of Transportation (DOT) requirements for steel load securement and added 15%,” explains Cooper, vp-operations for Maverick Transportation.

“For example, if the DOT says a chain can secure 10,000 lb., we rate it at 8,000 lb. That's not to say DOT's safety standards don't work, because they do. But we want to build in an extra margin of safety to protect our drivers, the customer's cargo and the public. You can never be too safe. One of our mottoes is ‘safety first and foremost.’”

That extra effort is warranted, since trucks carry 75 to 80% of all steel shipments in the U.S. And that's a big load. According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, this $35.1-billion industry produced over 107-million tons of steel in 1999.

Although such a heightened safety philosophy requires more time and resources for equipment and driver training, the end result has paid handsome dividends for the Little Rock, Ark.-based fleet.

Steve Williams, president of Maverick, started the business in 1980 with one truck and a mobile home for an office. It has grown into a 750-tractor fleet with more than 750 drivers, as well as four terminals located around the country.

The bulk of Maverick's fleet is made up of Freightliner Century Class tractors, sporting air-ride seats and 70-in. midroof sleepers. Those trucks are limited to regional lanes in 28 Midwestern and Eastern states. About 100 trucks, all Freightliner Classic XL tractors, operate national longhaul routes throughout the “lower 48.”

Maverick uses primarily flatbed trailers: 45-ft. and 48-ft. 102-in. spread axle aluminum models built by East Manufacturing. Non-skid floors make loading and unloading easier. Each trailer comes equipped with eight chains for steel loads, nylon straps for non-steel goods and two tarps.

Steel products such as coils, coil rods, bars and beams make up about 85% of Maverick's freight. The rest is lumber (10%) and building materials (5%).

One key to Maverick's success in the steel-hauling business is the way it trains drivers. Dean Newell, the company's vp-safety, says new drivers go through an extensive four and one-half day orientation process, spending eight to nine hours a day learning how to secure steel loads “the Maverick way.”

“After watching a film on how we do things, drivers go out to a trailer in our yard that's packed with steel coils and practice loading and unloading,” he says. “At the end of that period, they have to pass a test.”

New drivers who are uncomfortable working in the flatbed environment can join the company's Co-Driver program, which lets new hires ride with seasoned veterans to learn the ropes, while getting paid $125 a day.

Maverick is a big believer in the steel-to-steel load securement philosophy: Steel chains secure steel loads, not nylon straps. Maverick's rule of thumb is one steel chain for every 8,000 lb. of steel load weight. For any steel coil weighing more than 30,000 lb., a minimum of four chains must be strung through the coil's “eye,” which is double the number required by DOT regulations.

The company also “double tarps,” covering steel shipments first with a canvas tarp and then a vinyl tarp to protect the load against the elements.

Maverick's steel hauling methods are not recent innovations; Williams credits his father, Wilkie Williams, with developing them. “The equipment we use today is entirely different, but we haul steel exactly the same way,” said Williams. “Steel is a very unforgiving load. That's why we secure all of our steel loads with chains and double tarps, period. While it might mean more work for drivers, this method ends up protecting the customer's cargo and our equipment. It's the only way we'll ever haul steel.”