By Simon Birch, Technical Product Support – AW Direct
Much has been written and discussed about the merits of hi-vis, ANSI approved clothing, and there is no doubt that it contributes to keeping you safe out on the roadside. Towers all have and use warning lights as well, but what else can you do to protect yourself on the job?
In my 30 years as a towing operator, I had several close calls, but thankfully, no serious incidents. I’m going to share some of the procedures and policies I learned and was taught along the way that kept myco-workers and me safe.
One of the most dangerous jobs we perform is roadside service. Tire changes, gas calls, jump starts, etc., all require your focus to be diverted from the traffic around you. The correct placement of your truck is the single most important thing you can do to provide some protection for yourself and your customers.
Ideally, you should park behind your casualty at a reasonable distance. You should be close enough to make getting your equipment easy, but far enough that should a vehicle strike your truck, you have enough room to get out of the way if necessary. You should also turn your wheels towards the ditch line, that way, if the impact is hard enough to move your vehicle, it will roll away from the lanes of traffic.
By following a few simple procedures, you can remain as safe as possible when approaching a disabled vehicle that you are going to tow. As you approach your casualty, start to slow down in plenty of time. Make your moves steady and predictable to the other motorists around you.
If your state law allows, activate your emergency lighting to give your fellow drivers some warning of the upcoming hazard.
Once pulled over and in front of the casualty, check your mirrors and look over your shoulder before exiting the vehicle. Never turn your back on the traffic that is approaching, and proceed around the front of your wrecker. Walk down the passenger side to your casualty.
Do as much of your hooking up as you can from the passenger side and only work on the traffic side when you absolutely have to, always watching and listening to the traffic around you. One trick is to listen for the rumble strips. Most major highways now have rumble strips on the hard shoulder. If you hear them, you know that an approaching vehicle has strayed over the white line and could become an issue for you.
Once your hook up is complete and you are ready to re-join traffic, it is a good idea, if you can, to build up some speed before you merge into the traffic lane. Slowly accelerate down the shoulder until your speed is sufficient so as to not cause the flow of traffic to be disrupted by your movements.
Due to their incredible diversity and randomness, recovery jobs can be very dangerous situations where you are exposed to many potential hazards.
Let’s look at some of the more common issues and how to avoid possible injuries.
On a recovery job, there are many factors to consider. Hidden damage, heavy loads, equipment failure, load shifting, etc. Because your focus will be spread across many concerns, the first thing to do is ascertain a safe zone. Once working in that safe zone, you can be less concerned with what is going on around you, and stay more focused on the job at hand.
During your walk around, note anything that can go wrong during the recovery. This is especially important for heavy recovery jobs, as you are dealing with much heavier loads. However, it is still vital for the light duty jobs as well. Don’t assume that when you roll a car over, or winch it out of a ditch, that something can’t go wrong. Because it can and does.
When installing your rigging, check and double check all straps, chains, snatch blocks and wire rope for any sign of wear. Ensure they are installed correctly, with wear pads, safety latches and pins in place to prevent failure during the job. We have all seen images of wreckers lying on their sides, or broken ropes and straps that have recoiled at horrific speeds due to equipment failure.
Once your rigging is done, take up all the slack in your winch ropes, and then inspect your rigging again. Make sure that nothing has moved during the tensioning process. Make sure that when the job is complete, the casualty is going to be in a safe location. Make sure it will be secure and far enough away from your wreckers and rigging that you can facilitate a tow on it if needed.
Probably the most critical part of a recovery job is the position of the operator or operators. You need to be in a place where you can see what is going on and where you can communicate with other team members. More importantly, you need to be in a place where if something goes wrong, you are out of the danger zone.
Never stand between your wire ropes or inside a triangle of wire ropes. If you are using a snatch block to change direction, stand on the back side of it, so if something breaks it will move away from you.
If possible, use a remote control. Most modern recovery vehicles have remotes, and aftermarket ones are available for winches of every size and make.
As winching or lifting commences, listen. Your ropes and snatch blocks will make a noise. Old school operators will tell you of days gone by when the big mechanical wreckers with no pressure limits would“talk to you”. Wire ropes “sing” under a load. Listen to the casualty and make sure there is no noise coming from it that would indicate an unforeseen failure, which could result in injury. Keep your hands and feet away from all pinch points. If something needs to be changed in the rigging, make sure all personnel are aware and that all levers and remotes are not being handled.
It may seem obvious, but never stand or lay under an unsupported load. Do not rely on hydraulic pressure or winch brakes to hold the load. Too many lives and limbs are lost each year by loads dropping on operators.
Obviously, accidents happen. If they didn’t we wouldn’t have an industry, but by being aware, focused and knowledgeable, you can do a great deal to limit those accidents that occur during your work day. We have a very dangerous industry; it’s up to us to make it a safe as humanly possible.
Stay safe out there, folks.
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