Tools for Mobile Workers

Easy to carry, easy to handle, fast and efficient

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Easy to carry, easy to handle, fast and efficient

By Paul Hull

Are any industry sectors more mobile than utilities? Apart from public transport, delivery services such as UPS and FedEx, and law enforcement, there are no vehicles and workers more visible than ours. Many utility workers can be described as mobile. They travel to their work in familiar utility trucks, down streets, roads, highways and alleys. And, they take their tools with them.

A utility worker's vehicle is his or her office or factory. Everything required for a fast, safe, efficient job is contained in the vehicle: the driver, the tools and the devices for good communications. As linemen and other mobile workers have become more mobile, communication technologies have improved and become more mobile. Many workers have laptops and cell phones. Twenty years ago, a utility worker wasn't expected to have his or her own phone in the cab-or a computer safely housed there, either. Today, such communications devices are normal. You could describe them as new tools for the mobile worker's arsenal, as useful as bolt cutters, hammers, wire strippers and safety equipment. This is not the place to discuss what's available in communications devices from a technology viewpoint. There are many good ones-many that could be suitable for your mobile workers.

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Mobile workers' computers, laptops and tablets are more likely to be dropped, knocked or treated roughly than those that sit on desks. Tools such as Xplore's rugged tablets have been built to withstand seven-foot drops to concrete while they are operating and submersion in liquid up to half an hour-plus resistance to extreme temperatures utility workers encounter. Xplore has also announced the industry's first wireless docking system, which will allow greater mobility for workers in remote areas, and a smart docking system. You'll want to see what RAM Div., National Products Inc., is offering for safely mounting equipment. The manufacturer claims superiority over competitors with its Tough-Deck + Touchbook-offering a longer warranty, lightweight designs, more USB ports, less cost and the ability to integrate with hundreds of mounting solutions. The RAM No-Drill vehicle laptop mount will be at home in the worker's truck, fleet vehicle or van-as well as upper level utility supervisors' cars. The steel laptop bases are custom formed to fit specific vehicle models. Other names that come to mind are Gamber Johnson, Getac and Jotto Desk.

Looking After Tools and the Hands That Use Them

Look at any good utility truck and you'll see there are compartments for keeping tools in a safe, tidy place. The days are over when a worker could toss tools in the back of a pickup because much of his or her efficiency depends on the ability to quickly select the correct tool. The easiest way to achieve efficiency is to have tools housed in an orderly fashion. Such procedures should be as important-and enforced company-wide-as wearing a hard hat. Keep your tools tidy and readily available. Keep them secure when you are not using them. If your mobile workers are using pickups, you might consider the practical benefits of installing something such as the SpaceKap Compak from A.R.E. It's a cab-high, insert-type commercial unit with a low-profile roof, good for work where low clearance might be a problem for other vehicles. It has nearly unlimited interior customization options and a tie-down system that allows users to install the cap in minutes. It's a good way to keep tools tidy, secure and readily available.

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No matter how much technologies advance, most mobile workers' jobs involve using their hands to hold tools and instruments. A vital rule is to keep those hands safe. Among the best-known and trusted gloves are Novax, from Protective Industrial Products (PIP). The gloves feature a natural rubber construction that gives good dielectric properties while retaining practical flexibility, durability and strength. Novax gloves have a contoured shape to reduce hand fatigue and a rolled cuff that helps durability when you're putting them on or taking them off. PIP offers other products for utility job safety, including leather protectors, other gloves and storage bags. With Ropework XTTM gloves, the Youngstown Glove Co. has concentrated on comfort and grip. The Ropegrip reinforcement for the saddle between the thumb and index finger, for example, allows the user to tightly and securely grasp with little dexterity loss. Ruggedly built for utility applications, the Ropework XTTM gloves have Kevlar on the top of the hand for cut protection. Youngstown also offers the Leather Utility Plus glove, which has a National Electric Safety Code (NESC) arc rating of 20.8 Cal/cm2 and ranks at a level 2 hazard risk category. This advance in glove construction reflects the growing concern-and demand for a standard-that fabrics should be able to withstand enough energy before the user gets a second-degree burn.

A tool that has multiple uses seems like a practical idea. If the worker can complete more than one operation while handling just one tool, that would save time and effort-especially if changing tools means going up and down an aerial lift or ladder. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp., already known for its range of tools, increased that range in 2010 with the launch of its hand tool business. The hand tool line continues to expand with six-in-one tools to be used as lineman's pliers, diagonal cutting pliers, combination wire pliers and long nose pliers. The hand tool range includes tongue and groove pliers, aviation snips, reaming pliers and a PEX tubing cutter. With a limited lifetime warranty, each tool is drop forged, machined for high precision and treated to resist rust. The durable, over-molded grips-in that familiar red and black-are comfortable and are said to last longer than traditional rubber-dipped handles.

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Lowell Corp. also has a range of tools for many types of workers. Among those for linemen are several wrenches: triple square distribution wrenches, transmission wrenches, a triple square impact socket and the 101 XRS Pad Mount transformer wrench. There are dual end distribution wrenches, which allow one wrench to do the job of several. In addition, there are five socket sizes in one wrench: square are 3/4 inch (oversize), 1 inch and 1 1/8 inch; hex are 9/16 inch and 3/4 inch; and the 3/4-inch hex also turns 5/8 inch square nuts. There are two handle lengths available for these wrenches, 9 inches and 12 inches. With ergonomic shapes to make the work more comfortable and reversing control on each end, the Lowell wrenches are said to be twice as strong a standard ratcheting wrench. Of particular value to mobile workers, the wrenches have fluorescent orange sockets, making them harder to lose and easier to find. The bolt-through design allows the bolts to pass completely through sockets and arm head-so nuts can be secured on any threaded length.

Making the Work Easier and Safer

I think it was Larry Kotars of Huskie Tools who told me that manufacturers do not make disposable tools and utilities shouldn't think their lineworkers are disposable, either. Huskie Tools has produced several successful generations of battery-operated cutting and crimping tools. Kotars admitted that Huskie's MD-6 battery-operated crimping tool might be 10 times more expensive than a crimping tool with a wooden handle, but he said the payback for owning one is often less than a year.

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"Medical expenses from a blown elbow can reach $50,000," Kotars said. "When the worker uses a battery-operated or hydraulic crimping tool, he or she can prevent that dreaded white-knuckle syndrome sometimes imposed by the 35 to 60 hand pumping actions necessary with an old-style, 12-ton manual crimping tool. A typical job could involve 1,000 pump strokes and the safety issue looms when lineworkers have to stretch or twist when working from a bucket, pole or ladder."

As you know, there are many reliable tool manufacturers for utility workers: Klein, offering from basic scissors to the Parallel Jaw; Bashlin; Jameson; Cooper; Hastings; Rauckman; Wesco; Buckingham; Lewis; and Salisbury. They make good and readily available products. With so much available, we should investigate to see if there is anything new to improve what we already have. Established manufacturers are good sources for tools, but it would be unwise to assume anything new or foreign is less capable. Check the Internet. Check your favorite magazines-such as Utility Products-for articles and advertisements for new ways to cope with daily chores. A little research will bring huge benefits.

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