Issues Archives: Volume 3 - Issue 2

Volume 3 – Issue 2

Protecting Employees from Winter’s Hazards

By Mark H. Stromme


As a tow professional, you and other owners, operators, and employees work year-round outside in the elements. Depending on your location, the outdoor work environment can be brutal, especially in the winter months.

Wearing jackets, coveralls, insulated work boots, gloves, hats and balaclavas are a common means of protection from the cold, wind, rain, and snow. Crawling around over and under vehicles and on the beds of trailers can put this cold weather gear to the test.

Personal protective equipment

The above items are considered personal protective equipment, commonly referred to as “PPE.” PPE is equipment worn to minimize exposure to serious workplace injuries and illnesses. These injuries and illnesses may result from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other workplace hazards. Personal protective equipment may also include items such as gloves, safety glasses, protective footwear, earplugs, hard hats, respirators, coveralls, vests, and full body suits.

Ensure proper use of personal protective equipment


OSHA requires that all personal protective equipment be of safe design and construction, and be maintained in a clean and reliable fashion. It should fit well and be comfortable, which encourages workers to use it. If the PPE does not fit properly, it can make the difference between being safely covered or dangerously exposed.

When engineering, work practice, and administrative controls are not feasible or do not provide sufficient protection, employers must provide PPE to their workers and ensure its proper use.


Employers are also required to train each worker required to use PPE to know:

  • When it is necessary
  • What kind is needed
  • How to properly put it on, adjust, wear and take it off
  • The limitations of the equipment
  • Proper care, maintenance, useful life, and disposal of the equipment

Body protection

Employees who face possible bodily injury of any kind that cannot be eliminated through engineering, work practice or administrative controls must wear appropriate body protection while performing their jobs. Employees working in the towing profession are often exposed to these hazards:

  • Temperature extremes;
  • Splashes from hot liquids;
  • Potential impacts from tools, machinery and materials; and
  • Chemicals.

All employers are required to perform a hazard assessment according to OSHA’s 29 CFR 1910.132(d), “Hazard assessment and equipment selection.”


29 CFR  1910.132(d)

The employer shall assess the workplace to determine if hazards are present, or are likely to be present, which necessitate the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). If such hazards are present, or likely to be present, the employer shall:

  • Select, and have each affected employee use, the types of PPE that will protect the affected employee from the hazards identified in the hazard assessment;
  • Communicate selection decisions to each affected employee; and
  • Select PPE that properly fits each affected employee.

If a hazard assessment indicates a need for full body protection against toxic substances or harmful physical agents, the clothing must:

  • Be carefully inspected before each use,
  • Fit each worker properly, and
  • Function properly and for the purpose for which it is intended.

Protective clothing comes in a variety of materials, each effective against particular hazards, such as:
Hard Hat & Work Boots

  • Paper-like fiber used for disposable suits provides protection against dust and splashes.
  • Treated wool and cotton adapts well to changing temperatures, is comfortable and fire-resistant and protects against dust, abrasions, and rough and irritating surfaces.
  • Duck is a closely woven cotton fabric that protects against cuts and bruises when handling heavy, sharp, or rough materials.
  • Leather is often used to protect against dry heat and flames.
  • Rubber, rubberized fabrics, neoprene and plastics protect against certain chemicals and physical hazards. When chemical or physical hazards are present, check with the clothing manufacturer to ensure that the material selected will provide protection against the specific hazard.

High-visibility retroreflective clothing

Visibility hazards can also pose problems for tow operators. When you are exposed to traffic hazards, a best practice would be to follow the 2009 edition of the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), Chapter 6E, Flagger Control, which states:

For daytime and nighttime activity, flaggers shall wear high-visibility safety apparel that meets the Performance Class 2 or 3 requirements of the ANSI/ISEA 107-2004 publication entitled American National Standard for High-Visibility Apparel and Headwear and labeled as meeting the ANSI 107-2004 standard performance for Class 2 or 3 risk exposures.

The apparel background (outer) material color shall be fluorescent orange-red, fluorescent yellow-green, or a combination of the two as defined in the ANSI standard. The retroreflective material shall be orange, yellow, white, silver, yellow-green, or a fluorescent version of these colors, and shall be visible at a minimum distance of 1,000 feet. The retroreflective safety apparel shall be designed to clearly identify the wearer as a person.

Providing Class 2 or 3 safety vests to all employees required to work in or around a roadway is an important step in protecting them.

Payment for protective equipment

The employer is required to pay for certain types of personal protective equipment. However, the employer is not required to pay for non-specialty safety-toe protective footwear (including steel-toe shoes or steel-toe boots) and non-specialty prescription safety eyewear, provided that the employer permits such items to be worn off the job.

When the employer provides metatarsal guards and allows the employee, at his or her request, to use shoes or boots with built-in metatarsal protection, the employer is not required to reimburse the employee for the shoes or boots.

The employer is not required to pay for:

  • Everyday clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts, long pants, street shoes, and normal work boots; or
  • Ordinary clothing, skin creams, or other items, used solely for protection from weather, such as winter coats, jackets, gloves, parkas, rubber boots, hats, raincoats, ordinary sunglasses, and sunscreen.

The above indicates that you do not have to pay for heavy outerwear such as cold-weather jackets. However, since your employees may be working on or near roadways, they may be exposed to struck-by accidents. If this is the case, your hazard assessment would have indicated that and you would have to provide some type of appropriate high-visibility safety apparel.

Personal protective equipment/clothing checklist

Use the following checklist to help determine if you are in compliance with OSHA’s requirements:

  • Have you determined whether hazards that require the use of PPE (e.g., head, eye, face, hand, or foot protection) are present or are likely to be present?
  • If hazards or the likelihood of hazards are found, have you selected appropriate and properly fitted PPE suitable for protection from these hazards and do you ensure that affected employees use it?
  • Have employees been trained on PPE procedures, i.e., what PPE is necessary for job tasks, when workers need it, and how to properly wear and adjust it?
  • Are protective goggles or face shields provided and worn where there is any danger of flying particles or corrosive materials?
  • Are approved safety glasses required to be worn at all times in areas where there is a risk of eye injuries such as punctures, abrasions, contusions, or burns?
  • Are employees who wear corrective lenses (glasses or contacts) in workplaces with harmful exposures required to wear only approved safety glasses, protective goggles, or use other medically approved precautionary procedures?
  • Are protective gloves, aprons, shields, or other means provided and required where employees could be cut or where there is reasonably anticipated exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials? See the OSHA Bloodborne Pathogens standard, 29 CFR 1910.1030(b), for the definition of “other potentially infectious materials.”
  • Are hard hats required, provided, and worn where the danger of falling objects exists?
  • Are hard hats periodically inspected for damage to the shell and suspension system?
  • Is appropriate foot protection required where there is the risk of foot injuries from hot, corrosive, or poisonous substances, falling objects, crushing, or penetrating actions?
  • Are approved respirators provided when needed?
  • Is all PPE maintained in a sanitary condition and ready for use?
  • Are foods or beverages consumed only in areas where there is no exposure to toxic material, blood, or other potentially infectious materials?
  • Is protection against the effects of occupational noise provided when sound levels exceed those of the OSHA noise standard?
  • Are adequate work procedures, PPE, and other equipment provided and used when cleaning up spilled hazardous materials?
  • Are appropriate procedures in place to dispose of or decontaminate PPE contaminated with, or reasonably anticipated to be contaminated with, blood or other potentially infectious materials?


Final thought

Tow professionals are responsible for protecting their workers from hazards, and when necessary, provide the proper PPE that employees need to stay safe.

Mark H. Stromme
Workplace Safety Editor with J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc.
3003 Breezewood Ln,
Neenah, WI 54957
(920) 722-2848

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The Buck Stops Here

(It’s All About You, the Owner)

By Dan Messina

DJ Harrington and Dan Messina

I started my business career at a bank in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, back in 1966. Over the next 30 years or so, I worked in the computer industry and did not worry much about the structure of the company because it was already there. When I started my own business, I didn’t realize how different my life would become.

As the owner of my business, I was now responsible for everything that would happen. I was now in charge of:

  1. Finding a location
  2. Understanding all the laws and regulations for my industry
  3. Identifying the different types of people I would have to hire
  4. Hiring and firing of all employees
  5. Buying computers and software
  6. Buying other equipment necessary for my business
  7. Accounting
  8. Sales
  9. Customer service
  10. Setting objectives for the company
  11. Preparing a budget
  12. Running the day-to-day operation and keeping everyone happy

Everything comes back to “You” the owner.

The first thing I did was identify the type of person I was and what I believed in, because this is what my company would look like. As I looked at myself, I thought:

  1. I knew I worked better as a team player, not an individual that wanted or had to do everything.
  2. I knew I wanted a professional look. I want my employees to look professional but intimidating.
  3. I wanted my team to have uniforms.
  4. I wanted my equipment to look good with lots of bling.

There were other things we will talk about as we identify who “you” are. My only experience to this point was the sports teams I put together. I was a softball umpire for several city recreational leagues in the Dallas area. I wanted to put together a team to compete at a high level, so I started scouting teams that I was umpiring.

This was my interview process. I wanted my leadoff hitter to be left-handed with speed. This would increase his chances of getting on base. I wanted my 2nd and 3rd batters to be good hitters and get on base a lot, and I wanted my 4th hitter to be cleanup and have power to hit homeruns. My 5, 6, 7, and 8 batters were the same as the first 4. The 9th batter was usually the pitcher, and, as long as he could pitch, that’s all that mattered. Once I had the players, I dressed them to look good, which made them intimidating.  Other teams feared us before we even took the field.

That was my philosophy for my softball team, and it was very successful. We played in several state tournaments and even made it to nationals one year. It was fun and very successful at the same time.

I took the same philosophy and applied it to my company. I knew I was a team player, so my first priority was to build a strong team. I needed a sales person. I found an experienced sales person that could bring me business immediately, but he wanted a large salary. Remember when you are starting a company, everyone’s salary seems large. We found a way to afford him by giving him other functions to do besides sales. We needed phone people, and we found people we liked and had good personalities and were upbeat people and they worked out great. My drivers were as honest as I was going to find in this industry, and most of their tattoos were hidden.  I didn’t mind tattoos, but I wanted a professional look. This was easy to build because I know who I was and what I wanted my company to look like.

I had a competitor who spent some time in jail. When he got out and started his business, he used all the people he met in jail. Needless to say, his company was a little different than mine.

Back to my sports ventures, there was a time when 3 on 3 street basketball became very popular and cities would hold tournaments. Dallas would get over 250 teams to participate. I decided to put a team together and compete. I looked for a ball handler, a shooter and a big man. Each team had four players, so there was one substitute.  I was the brains behind the team. I was also the only white guy on the team. Once again, I was looking for skills for the team. Once again, we were very successful. We played together 4 years and won in cities all over the southwest.

I relate what I’ve done in sports and tried to show you how it related to my business. Everyone is different; as you evaluate you are and your strengths and weaknesses, you will see what you need for your company to make it better.  Don’t hire everyone just like you or you will be strong in the areas you are good in and weak at the areas you don’t like.

I was opening up an auction business one time, and I needed to get a zoning change for the property I wanted to occupy. My landlord let me run my business there while I worked on the zoning change. I thought I could do it myself. This is something I never had any experience in, and it was quite a lesson to be learned. I had to deal with:

  1. Selling multiple city council men in Dallas
  2. Attending and presenting my opportunity zoning no less than 4 times
  3. Walking the neighborhood getting a petition signed by residents
  4. Presenting my opportunity to city council twice

After several months of fighting with the city, I did not get the zoning change, and I gave up on the business. As I was going through this, I met a consulting firm that want to help me. They were Dallas council men and had all the connections. I chose to go it alone and lost.

Several years later, I had a business that I want to move to a larger location. That move required a zoning change. Do you think I tried to do it myself? Hell no. I found that consulting firm and gave it to them. In less than 60 days, I got the change and moved. Don’t try to do things yourself.  Find people talented at what you need and use them.

After I got the new land, I needed to develop it. I needed:

  1. A city of Dallas Fence Permit
  2. A city of Dallas Building Permit
  3. A city of Dallas Landscaping Permit
  4. A city of Dallas Building Permit
  5. A city of Dallas Electrical Permit
  6. A city of Dallas Plumbing Permit
  7. A city of Dallas Concrete Surface Permit

I thought this would be easy, so I went to the city and applied for all the permits. They required something new every day, and, after 3 weeks of aggravation, I thought I would escalate my problem to a higher level. While I was waiting for my meeting, I met a young lady in the waiting room who was saying hi to all the city employees as they came in. I commented to her that she knew everyone and asked if she could help me. She said yes. I asked her to wait until my meeting was over and I would talk to her. I met with the escalating people, and they said it would cost me $500 an hour and a minimum of 5 hours to get my permits. I asked them how long it would take, and they told me another 3 weeks. I left the meeting.

On the way out, I asked the young lady to meet me outside. When we got outside, I asked her what she could do for me. She said I needed $1,500 cash and I would have the permits in less than 7 working days. I gave her the money, and we went inside and started the process of applying for permits all over. She was right; in less than 7 business days, I not only had my permits, but I also had them green tagged and approved.

The point I want to make with all these stories is that you can’t do all the work yourself. Not only do you not have the skills, but you don’t have the time, either. Don’t be afraid to use others to help run your business. It will make your life easier and definitely more productive.

Everything in your company falls on your shoulders; share the load. Our advice in running your business is to surround yourself with people smarter than you and have fun. Someday your life will flash in front of you, so we want to make it worth watching.

Visit for more information.

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What’s the Best Way to Start the Day?

By DJ Harrington

DJ Harrington - Fuel for Thought

DJ Harrington – Fuel for Thought

Last week, I was in New Orleans speaking at the NADA Convention. NADA is the National Automobile Dealers Association. While there, I was asked, “DJ, how do you start your day?” Wonderful question! So, I paused and said, “Well, at my age, it seems the bathroom is the first on my list.” My comment prompted a smile! I continued, “I’ve got some age on me and am a Christian. So, I sit down and spend some time reflecting. I really try to be someone who finds something good in each day…then give it to someone else.”

The tips that I am about to share with you will help you discover the right beginning for your day. This one is so important. Believe that you are going to have a great day. Have the faith that no matter what happens that your day will be great.  Ask yourself empowering and positive questions, such as: What can I do to make this day better than any other day? Or, what can I do to make a difference in my job or business?  Review and reflect over things in your life that make you the happiest. What are you most excited about in your life? When you ask yourself these type of questions, you’re more apt to have a good day.

All of us should think about what we are most grateful for in our lives. Now that I have 3 grandchildren, the natural course is to think about them a great deal. So I do.  What’s your focal point? When you’ve pinpointed it, focus on the positive answers to some of the above questions. Use the answers to enrich your life and give yourself a positive attitude toward each new day.

Here are the next activities in my morning ritual. Sometimes I listen to lively music. Fast, energizing music can get me recharged quickly for the new day. Music is a melodious vapor that can change the mindset from negative to positive. Another day, I may listen to motivational tapes while dressing for the day. Words from someone successful may be just what you need. Let’s not forget your goals either.  You need to go over your long-term goals and review all the actions you can take towards accomplishing them.

I have to include this activity every morning. I spend 5 to 10 minutes each day with a daily devotional book that I bought for myself this past Christmas. It’s a ritual for me that’s “non-negotiable.” That may not be for you. Perfectly fine!

However, here are some suggestions that might help you start your day – your way.

You have to get up earlier than you want to get up. Everyone knows the old saying, “The early bird always catches the worm.” You have to give more than you get in return the moment you put your feet onto the floor.  You have to care more about others and helping them more than they care about you. You have to lead when no one else is following you yet or you don’t feel like leading. You have to invest in yourself even though no one else is. You have to try and fail, try and fail, and try again. You have to run faster even though you are out of breath. You have to be kind to people who have been cruel or mean to you even though you’d rather reciprocate. When things go wrong, you have to be accountable for yourself.

The biggest suggestion of all, no matter what happens, is you must keep your personal goals and achievements in front of you – all day, every day.  Review them each morning and throughout the day. Before retiring at night, see how much you accomplished.

Making sure you have a good day depends on how you start, spend and finish your day. What you put into your mind and heart from the moment you wake up is most important because it sets the scene and tone for the day’s events. Start a ritual now. You’ll discover wonderful, positive and productive days ahead for you.

See you next time.

DJ Harrington is an author, journalist, seminar leader, international trainer, and marketing consultant. He works primarily with customer service personnel, and his clients include such world-class companies as General Motors, DuPont, Caterpillar, and Damon Corporation. He can be reached at 800-352-5252 or by e-mail at

Publisher’s Note: DJ will be speaking at the 17th Annual TRAA Legislative & Leadership Conference, March 20-23, 2014. Hope everyone is there in Washington, D.C., to support TRAA!

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Grease, the Forgotten Lube

By Dan Watson

Bearings - Lube Talk

In previous Lube Talk articles, we looked at the role lubricants play in overcoming the effects of friction. In this installment, I want to examine one specialized type of lubricant: grease lube. Looking at previous civilizations, we can see that man has tried several methods to provide basic lubrication to load-bearing surfaces; axles have presented one of the most challenging applications. As far back as 1400 BC, mutton fat and beef tallow were used on chariot axles to reduce friction in order to allow for more speed and to slow down wear. One can only imagine the pressure on the maintenance men to make the chariot go faster and to avoid axles catching on fire from the continuous friction. While there is evidence of lime being added to these fats in order to make their lubricating properties last longer, few other improvements to the composition of grease are known to have been used until we reach the magic year of 1859.

What happened in 1859? Colonel Drake drilled the first ever oil well in Pennsylvania; since then, the world has not been the same. In petroleum oil, man found a lubricant that could be manipulated in a variety of ways to produce greases much superior to the lubricants that preceded them. In turn, more advanced and effective greases have been produced in recent decades with the advent of synthetic greases.

The word grease is derived from the Latin word Crassus meaning fat. We can see where the name came from (mutton fat, beef tallow); however, grease lube, for modern purposes, is not to be construed as fat. The American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) defined grease in 1916 as: A solid to semi-fluid product of dispersion of a thickening agent in a liquid lubricant. In plain English, this means a lubricant composed of lubricating fluids (oils), thickened by mixing chemicals to produce a semi-fluid to semi-solid consistency.

Now that we know a little of the history of grease and how grease is defined in modern lubrication; when, where and why is grease lube used? While lubricating oils are able to lubricate any friction-causing situation, greases offer unique characteristics that are well suited for:

  • Situations requiring less dripping or spattering of lubricant
  • Hard to lubricate bearings or joints where reducing frequency of lubrication is needed
  • In dirty, dusty or hazardous environments where additional sealing is needed to prevent lubricant contamination
  • For intermittent operation. Oil drains away from critical bearings when the equipment is stopped but grease stays in place.

Grease Lube Composition

Greases are made from oil and thickeners (sometimes called soaps). The process is simple, but the details are fairly complex. The lubricating oil can be petroleum or synthetic and can vary in viscosity. Additionally, anti-wear and extreme pressure additives can be added to formulate greases for specific applications, such as high speed bearings, very cold or very hot conditions, open gears, extreme loads or high moisture conditions, to name a few. Oil and thickeners can be combined to offer greater temperature ranges and resistance to moisture. Thickeners can be combined or formulated with additional chemicals to produce more complex thickeners for specific applications.

Greases will vary in thickness depending on the amount and type of thickeners used, as well as the viscosity of the lubricating oil used. The National Lubricating Grease Institute (NLGI) is the regulating body that establishes specific ratings for greases. Greases are rated on a hardness scale from 000 to 6; where 000 is a thick liquid, like pudding, and 6 is a block, similar to hard clay. Today, 000 grease lube is used as a replacement for gear lubes in bearings and differentials, and number 6 grease is used where a rubbing action is needed to produce a light film on the surface to be lubricated. Wheel bearings and chassis greases used in auto and truck applications are usually NLGI #2. In very cold climates, NLGI #1 grease is preferred because the grease will thicken in response to the temperatures. Synthetic greases thickened with appropriate compounds are functional over a wide temperature range, from minus 50ºF to 500ºF; petroleum greases are generally limited to 0°F to 300°F.

In 1991, the NLGI developed a classification system specifically targeting automotive greases (Table One). For the majority of readers, it is the appropriate rating system for your truck applications.

Application NLGI
Service Limitations


Mild duty, frequent re-lubrication


Infrequent re-lubrication, high loads, water exposure
Wheel Bearings


Mild duty
Wheel Bearings


Moderate duty, typical of most vehicles
Wheel Bearings


Severe duty, high temperatures, frequent stop and go service

So, when you are looking to purchase grease lube for your truck, look for grease labeled GC-LB: grease rated for severe duty for the wheel bearings as well as for the chassis. Multi-purpose grease is the correct match for 3500 chassis, but heavy duty grease is the better choice for most tow trucks.  Synthetic greases, available from Amsoil and Mobil, will provide the best protection over the widest temperature range. Heavy duty grease is moly-fortified (molybdenum disulfide), which provides for extreme pressure lubrication. I have explained the difference in extreme pressure lubrication vs. standard lubrication regimes in an earlier issue of Lube Talk, so please refer to that issue for the specific explanation. There are several legitimate extreme pressure grease points on heavy duty trucks; using the correct grease is critical for proper operation and long life.

If the grease will be exposed to water, either by submersion or by spray, using water resistant grease is the best choice. To be water resistant, the grease must pass additional testing that insures its ability to cling to a surface while being sprayed with a stream of water. Water resistant greases contain additional thickeners and tackifiers that allow them to resist washing out. Sometimes, these greases will be labeled “marine,” but more and more they are simply referred to as water resistant.

Grease Compatibility

A word of caution; not all greases are compatible with each other. This problem occurs because some of the thickening agents chemically react with others, which can lead to the grease lube becoming very hard or liquefying or preventing the oil from leeching out to provide lubrication, essentially rendering the grease useless. Most grease you find for automotive applications are lithium or lithium-complex greases: these are compatible with each other. Table Two covers compatibility/incompatibility of commonly used greases. If you find grease that uses a different thickener than those listed, contact me to verify compatibility.

Compatibility / Incompatibility of Commonly Used greases (Table Two)

Compatibility / Incompatibility of Commonly Used greases

Table Two – Different types of grease lube are not always compatible with each other. For instance, the first two grease compounds, Aluminum Complex and Barium Complex are incompatible as indicated by the “I” inside a red box. A “C” inside a green box indicates that the two compounds are compatible with each other. A “B” in a yellow field indicates the two compounds possess only borderline compatibility.

Grease is the forgotten lubricant, it just doesn’t rise to the level of notice of other lubricants; however, grease lube is fundamental to proper care for your vehicle. For most auto or truck applications, greasing should be done at three month intervals for petroleum and six month intervals for synthetics. Wheel bearings properly packed with synthetic grease are good for 10 years, but the most convenient time for repacking is when the brakes are replaced. There are few manufacturers stipulating wheel bearing maintenance, and some are now installing sealed bearings that cannot be greased. Ball joints and steering joints can still be greased in most heavy duty vehicles, but in light duty vehicles, the grease fittings may not be installed and you will have to purchase them and install them. As with all lubricants, synthetic greases outperform petroleum greases, and the cost difference is actually in favor of the synthetics; you simply use less grease over time and the upfront cost difference is minimal.

For questions and/or comments, contact me via my website,, or by email at

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Hazmat Awareness and Spill Kits Improve Safety and Efficiency

By Karen Hamel, New Pig Corporation

Kit 420 Spill Control

Punctured radiators and grazed saddle tanks are just two of the leaky messes that drivers may face when they’re called out to assist disabled vehicles. Getting these and other vehicle fluids under control quickly and safely can present challenges.

Whether it’s crankcase oil, brake fluid, antifreeze or battery acid, all are essential fluids that keep vehicles running. Unfortunately, these fluids aren’t very useful when they’re leaking into the ground. To make matters worse, most are considered to be hazardous – presenting problems for both the environment and personal safety. Knowing what to do before a spill kit is chosen is just as important as choosing the right one.

Recognizing Hazards

Being able to quickly recognize different vehicle fluids and understanding their hazards is an important safety consideration for drivers. It allows the correct absorbents, personal protective equipment (PPE) and other tools to be chosen and used for the fastest, most efficient response.

In addition to these liquids, drivers can face just about anything when they pull up to a scene.

Tank trucks carry anything from water to highly flammable or corrosive materials. And just like engine fluids, if there’s an accident, these can leak, too. In many cases, drivers are not trained to respond to large chemical spills, and, even in the event of a large tanker spill, they will not be called upon to assist with actual cleanup duties for those liquids. However, because they could encounter a wide variety of hazardous liquids, it’s a good idea for everyone to have at least a general awareness of the hazards that they could face at an accident scene.

Fire departments, the local emergency management agency or the local hazmat team are all good sources for free or low-cost hazard awareness training. This training won’t train drivers to gear up and respond to a big spill, but it will give them an understanding of how to look for hazards and help them to understand the steps that they can take to stay safe.

Protecting the Bottom Line

Employees are arguably a company’s most valuable asset, so protecting them from harmful chemical splashes that might occur while they’re out clearing vehicles from a scene should be a priority. As spill response supplies are being chosen, consider what types of gloves, splash goggles and other PPE might also be needed to keep drivers safe.

It is important to have PPE that is resistant to the fluids that drivers will regularly face. But, it is also important to recognize that no single type of glove, splash suit or other piece of PPE will protect workers from everything. If they are at a scene with an unknown chemical, it is far safer for them to step back and wait for help from someone who has knowledge of the chemicals involved than it is to wear PPE that won’t properly protect them from harm.

Understanding Absorbents

Absorbents come in lots of different colors, shapes, forms and sizes. In most cases, choosing the wrong one won’t bring doom and utter destruction – but just like tools, choosing the right one will make the job go a lot more smoothly.

The first thing to know is that absorbents come in two types: universal and water-repellent (also called “oil-only”). Universal absorbents are non-selective – they will absorb just about any liquid that comes into contact with them. This can be a good thing because they always work, no matter what the liquid is. But, it can be bad if the absorbent is not compatible with the liquid. It can also be bad if it is raining because the absorbents will pick up both the spilled liquid and rainwater, so more absorbents will likely be needed to get a spill cleaned up.

Water-repellent or oil-only absorbents only absorb oils and petroleum products. These are a first choice for response in bad weather because they’ll repel water and only absorb the oils and petroleum products present. The limiting factor is that they will not pick up coolants, battery acid or any other water-based liquids. When choosing absorbents for a spill kit, it’s a good idea for drivers to have both universal and oil-only absorbents.

The next thing to understand is which form of absorbent to use: socks, mats, or loose. Having a combination of these three forms will help get small spills under control and cleaned up quickly.

Socks come in different lengths, and like other absorbents, can be either universal or oil-only.  The main function of socks is to create a dike that absorbs and stops the spill from spreading any further.

Absorbent mats are used to quickly soak up spills that have been contained. They can also be placed under something that is slowly dripping to catch the drips until the source of the leak can be found and repaired.

Loose absorbents are probably the most familiar. They can be poured around a spill to dike it or sprinkled over a contained spill to soak it up. The limiting factor with loose absorbents is that they need to be swept or shoveled up after use, unlike mats and socks, which are easier and faster to pick up after they’ve done their job.

The last thing to consider is how much liquid each absorbent can hold. This helps to determine how many of each type of absorbent to put into a spill kit. Most vehicle spills are less than 10 gallons. In most cases, a spill kit that absorbs 10 to 20 gallons will fit in the cab, and will be lightweight enough for anyone to pull it from the cab for fast use.

Spill Kit Picks

Spill kits come in different shapes and sizes.  They can come prepackaged from a supplier, or they can be put together onsite from materials supplied by different vendors.  Like tools in a toolbox, as time goes on, operators will discover which products and tools they like the best and which are the most useful. Some of the most common items in spill kits are:

  • Absorbents (socks and mats)
  • Appropriate PPE
  • Hand wipes
  • Temporary disposal bags
  • Patch and repair items

Prepackaged spill kits come in both one-time-use and refillable varieties. One-time-use kits are convenient because when they are used at a scene, they can be quickly replaced with a new kit.   Refillable kits can be more economical, and can be refilled as the contents are used.

Ready for Action

People rarely call for a tow truck unless something has gone wrong. Disabled vehicles and highway accidents cause traffic congestion and can spur additional accidents. Being prepared to handle small spills quickly and safely adds value to towing services, prevents fluids from being tracked from the scene and minimizes slippery road conditions caused by fluids that leak from vehicles.

Karen D. Hamel is a technical specialist for New Pig Corp. She has over 20 years of experience helping environmental, health and safety professionals find solutions to meet EPA, OSHA and DOT regulations.  She is a hazmat technician, serves on the Blair County, PA LEPC, is a CERT trainer and has completed a variety of hazmat response and NIMS courses, including Planning Section Chief. She can be reached at 1-800-HOT-HOGS® (468-4647) or by email

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