By Lee McCord
Safe practices don't end between service calls. Utilities have a protocol for everything: safely climbing the pole, safely setting the outriggers and safely placing the pylons at lunch. Many utilities, however, have vague protocols concerning an important public safety concern-loose or dropped cargo. Transformers, cases, shovels and pick axes rattle loosely and wait to go airborne from the beds of work trucks. Drivers often are unaware of these dangers and almost always lack the tools and training to safely secure these items.
The Big Issue
In 2010, objects falling from vehicles or lying in the roadway caused 51,000 crashes in the US. At least 440 people were killed and 10,000 injured from these objects, as reported by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Safety managers often overlook this issue because utility workers are unaffected by their own dropped loads. The kid commuting to class six cars back pays the price. Part of the tragedy, and part of the silver lining, is that nearly all of these accidents were avoidable if safe practices had been employed.
More Compelling Reasons
The public safety aspect is the greatest reason to immediately tighten load securement practices. Exposure to liability walks hand in hand with injury and property damage. But, there are several other compelling reasons to practice safety now.
Corporate image: A utility's vehicles are the primary face and connection of a utility to the public. The trucks are rolling billboards for the company. People develop their image of a utility by what they see its employees doing, and they see them daily on the roads. Loose loads are messy and project a low concern for safety. Other drivers will aggressively pass or avoid vehicles with a poorly kept load. A well-secured load, however, demonstrates the company's care and concern for its customers and the public.
State and municipal laws: Every state and many municipalities have laws governing cargo securement. Some states will slap drivers on the wrist, and some, like Washington, can put them in jail.
Theft and shrinkage: Theft-deterrence and a reduction of supply shrinkage are further reasons to keep items in place. Thieves don't like obstacles, and supplies don't get lost when well contained.
Where to Begin
So how does a company implement an effective securement policy when most vehicles in a fleet are configured differently? The varied requirements for different jobs makes the open bed of a utility vehicle like a man's top dresser drawer-socks, underwear and a little of everything else. Proper containment for these items can seem daunting.
Keep the following steps in mind when creating an effective load securement policy:
• Define how the cargo areas are being used and what is being carried in them.
• Does the cargo have another home in the truck?
• Would it be more appropriate for the item to be stowed in the cab?
• What sizes and shapes of items are typically carried in the truck?
• Once the most commonly used cargo area has been identified, determine which securement apparatus might be best for you.
• Determine whether the anchor point locations are appropriate and sufficient for the typical load.
• Make sure you are not creating additional dangers for employees. Drivers should be able to secure cargo from the sides and rear of the truck and not have to climb over cargo or a restraint net. Try to choose a device that is easy to use and requires less guesswork from employees. Complicated devices with moveable components often do not get used or are used incorrectly.
Make the Choice
There are a variety of available devices to contain loads. Active restraints put tension on the cargo-such as a flatbed tie-down-while a passive restraint keeps the cargo from exiting an area-such as the trunk of a car. The most basic choices are ropes and tie down straps. These work well for regularly shaped and larger items, although the driver must make decisions about how to secure the cargo and the straps offer little coverage.
Cargo nets are effective and take the guesswork out of securing cargo. Choose one that is easy to use and made of high quality materials. A mesh overlay is normally not necessary for containing small items and will reduce the net's effectiveness for irregularly shaped larger items. One drawback to this class of restraint is that different manufacturers rate their products differently, making it difficult to compare actual strengths. Always err on the side of caution and ask for apples to apples comparison.
Finally, there are movable fabric walls. These passive restraints keep cargo from exiting the vehicle and are typically used when cargo can only be accessed from the rear, such as in a utility body truck or aerial boom truck. Because it is not a safe practice for your employees to climb over cargo to secure it, these devices provide excellent containment without added safety hazards. The one drawback to these restraints is that heavy loose items should additionally be restrained with a tie down.
Train and Continuously Improve
Once the choice of restraints has been made and trucks outfitted, train and discuss with employees the need for constant vigilance with loose loads. Make the driver responsible for loads, and have him do a walk around at each stop to check his load. Hold them accountable to themselves and each other. Acknowledge improvement and never stop getting safer.
Dropped load accidents are almost always preventable. Prevent them.
About the Author: Lee McCord is the sales manager for BEDNET Cargo Control Solutions, which manufactures safe, easy-to-use solutions for fleets to address cargo restraint issues. McCord's dedication to roadway safety has sparked many new and innovative designs, accommodating most vehicles found in the utility industry. For more information, please contact McCord at firstname.lastname@example.org.