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Trucking slabs 0006editedA giant game of dominoes can be a costly affair.


When you’re young and eager to get the job done, you never admit to anybody you’re not up to the job in hand. But if I hadn’t been so inexperienced and eager to please, the following tale would never have happened.

At the time I was driving a 17-tonne Ford Cargo for Lep Transport, doing multi-drop deliveries and collections. One afternoon, I pulled into a factory in Cumbernauld which was shipping marble slabs airfreight to ‘New York, New York, so good they named it twice.’ The shipping clerk said they were for cladding the outside of a skyscraper, and it had taken quite some time to get the colour match and finish they wanted.

The truck was empty and this was my only collection before heading back to the depot at Glasgow Airport, so I opened the front of the curtain and jumped up on my truck. A forklift brought the slabs out across the yard, very slowly, with a worker steadying them on the forks.

The pieces of marble were standing on their edge with a wooden framework around them. Among other things that day, I learned that marble slabs have to be shipped upright – you can’t lay them flat. Sheets of glass are the same.

Everything was done very slowly – the forklift lifted the slabs onto the truck and left me to it, and the guy who was steadying them stayed on the ground. Perhaps he knew something I didn’t.

I got my pallet truck under the slabs and gently raised the slabs. They were about five feet by four feet, but the crate was only eight or ten inches thick. Slowly, I pulled them back and turned them, ready to push forward and strap against the headboard. It was a recipe for disaster; with one hand holding the slabs and the other hand on the pallet truck, they wobbled and down they went.

The marble shattered into a thousand pieces. The look on the forklift driver’s face said it all: shock, horror, despair – you name it.

Although at the time I didn’t know how the slabs should have been packed, I had a gut feeling they weren’t right. I know now I should have refused that shipment, but hindsight – or should I say experience – is a wonderful thing. The folks at the factory had tried to save money by making the crate themselves. They had made the base too narrow, but as I had tried to move the slabs myself, my company had become liable.

Inever went back to that factory, but I heard their second attempt at DIY packing was refused by British Airways as ‘unsuitable for shipping.’ At least their second try actually got to the airport – I like to think I learn from my own mistakes and try not to repeat them. It’s tempting to question the sanity of a company which had already watched a shipment shatter into a thousand pieces, only to try the same thing again. Rather than pay a professional to pack their product properly, it was third time lucky before the slabs made their way onto a plane and out to the customer – it was sheer luck that no more slabs were broken.

When I later mentioned my disaster to the boys in the packing department at Lep in East Kilbride, it all fell into place, so to speak. Lep had packed a full 40-foot container for this company and shipped it out with no problems – then, several weeks later, a claim came in to Lep’s office. The claim was for a substantial amount for goods received damaged in a container full of marble products.

The depot manager called the packing manager into his office and read the riot act. The packing shop manager thought it was strange the claim had taken so long to come through, so he got out the files to check on the date the job had been done. It was then he noticed the container numbers didn’t match; the container Lep had packed was delivered and unpacked with no problems. Lep had packed the first container on the company’s premises.

The Lep packing boys told me that as they worked, the marble company’s employees watched them like hawks. Obviously they thought “That’s simple – we could do that.” So, they bought some lengths of wood, a box of nails, and packed the second container themselves. Then, when it all went wrong, they tried to bluff their way into getting Lep to foot the bill for the damage when their inexperienced packing was revealed.

It was then clear, to me anyway, what they were up to. With the bogus container claim knocked back, they sacrificed the shipment of slabs I picked up to make an inflated claim against Lep. I only wish I had known all the facts before I opened my mouth the next time I met the East Kilbride depot manager. The manager, usually very pleasant to me, blew his top at my reply to his, “that was some carry on with those slabs Colin”. “Och,” I said, “accidents happen, that’s why we have insurance, isn’t it?”