Tag: Fleet Safety

The Value of Site-Specific Equipment Plans

Every equipment manager’s budget is impacted by unexpected losses and repairs. If you manage equipment, you know this. You may expect to get 160,000 miles out of that crew truck or 2,000 hours out of a digger derrick before major component replacement, but that’s not going to happen if a line crew drops it off a mountain. I once witnessed the remains of a digger derrick that was lost while being winched up a mountainside for a wilderness construction project. It was unoccupied when the slings attaching it to the D8 crawler dozer failed. At the bottom of the mountain, the winch hook was the only recognizable part. A few years later, I had flashbacks when I heard our construction manager negotiating with our right-of-way clearing manager for the loan of one of their D9s to haul equipment up a mountain. My interest was safety. But in the process of planning for safety, we gained a valuable lesson in equipment preservation. I got involved with pre-planning for mobilization and learned how construction managers planned to perform the project. It was a new line. Right-of-way clearing was being done by another contractor. There were no roads, so access was the challenge. The terrain was very steep at a couple locations.

Prior to the start of the work, I conferred with fleet management. Tow rigging connections are an issue on most equipment. Digger derricks and bucket trucks sometimes come with bumper-mounted factory tow hooks. These bumper hooks are sufficient for getting equipment out of sand if it gets stuck, but they are not necessarily appropriate for a half-mile haul up newly cleared, soft terrain. Fleet asked the truck manufacturer about getting design parameters for the bumper and frame to come up with a modification for towing.

Fleet then selected flatbed chassis derricks and buckets as the lightest for towing and rigged front hooks accordingly. They custom ordered four 60-foot-length 3/4-wire-rope slings for towing calculated at a minimum 3:1 ratio over the trucks’ weights. They also got details on the frame-mounted eyes on the back of the D9 that would be doing the haul up the hill. The last issue was a backup plan, which meant determining in advance what could be done to keep the truck from rolling backward down the hill if something went wrong. Trucks can’t be towed with the brakes on, and we didn’t want a driver in the cab. Fleet came up with a simple but ingenious rig that saved the day.

Training and Backup Plans Matter
As we learned, however, it turns out that the best procedures are only as good as the training that goes along with their implementation. In the scenario described above, somebody didn’t get the part of the plan about rigging to the eyes on the D9. A couple hauls, including the one that failed, were done from the winch cable on the back of the D9. That cable was 5/8-inch plow steel designed for hauling trees – and it had hauled many trees. The good news is, all the fleet planning time was not wasted because the backup plan worked.

An 11-foot-long, 10-inch-by-10-inch square pine beam was rigged behind the rear wheels on each haul. The log was chained to the bed on both sides so that if the truck rolled backward, it would hit the beam and stop. It worked. The winch cable did fail, and the truck being hauled dropped backward against the log and stopped.

The catch-rig story here is not a recommendation for readers. This one worked, but it may not have been effective given a different dirt type or condition, a different wheel size or other variations. With a little imagination, workers might come up with a number of backup plans, such as using safety cables similar to boat trailer chains parallel to the strain rigging. The point here is if the crew had used 3/4 IWRC cable rigged to the eyes on the D9, the haul rigging wouldn’t have failed. That’s the point, and the lesson is two parts: Site-specific planning can prevent loss if not disasters, and training the site crew to the plan is just as important as the plan itself.

Site-Specific Equipment Review
From that event on, I have always planned for site-specific equipment review. It begins with the bid process and a site visit. A couple questions to the project managers reveal the work execution plan. If there are going to be unusual conditions, plan for them. Write a site-specific plan, and then train every crew member on the plan and the procedures to be employed. For example, anybody who has ever worked in the grassy plains of Texas knows you likely will need a fleet of dozers to get your buckets from pole to pole in that soft Texas dirt. If you don’t provide rigging points and a plan, you’ll get equipment back with bent pintle hooks and missing or bent bumpers, or, even worse, broken leaf springs or spring hangers.

There are other benefits of equipment plans. A site visit by a fleet professional can prevent overweight tickets and job delays. For instance, during a site visit in the bid stage in the Midwest, estimators failed to notice local weight limits on roads to the right-of-way. The company I was working for got the job. On the third day of equipment mobilization, state police ticketed a lowboy for being overweight. The patrol hung around to make sure the trucks did not return to those roads. The project was shut down for several days while lighter trucks were delivered and materials were broken down to meet the restrictions. The job had to absorb the cost for mobilizing the original trucks, the lost days and mobilizing the lighter trucks, as well as double material-handling costs. A fleet professional likely would have noted the access issues and prevented the loss.

Site-specific planning also can ensure fuel and maintenance access is appropriate for what you want for your equipment. Crews are going to get the work done no matter what. A job in Georgia went under on fines when the crews used ag-dyed fuel in bucket trucks because they couldn’t get bulk fuel on-site through an unreliable supplier picked by project managers. When the state caught them, they based the fines on fuel purchased and miles that could have been driven. The fines for the nine trucks found with ag-dyed fuel were higher than the profit estimate for the job. In Arizona, crews were stopped by the Department of Transportation when a trooper noticed a bucket truck filling up at an auto-fuel dispenser. That’s not allowed in Arizona and other states for tax-related reasons. This wasn’t news to the fleet manager when he got the call from the Arizona Fuel Tax Evasion Unit, but apparently the crew didn’t know the rules.

Estimators and planners are not the best at planning critical resources for equipment support. But everybody knows your phone number when pressure diggers are down in the middle of nowhere. If you identify resources and lead time for those resources prior to the start of work, you will prevent headaches when the inevitable hose break occurs.

In summary, getting involved with estimating and planning is a good management tool. A little time and planning at the front end keeps you in the loop for what is coming up. It allows you to be sure the right equipment gets to the job, and pre-planning prevents those days of firefighting to solve problems. And not only do planning and training help to prevent issues, but if issues do arise, planning ensures an effective response gets crews and jobs back online quickly.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at jim@ispconline.com.

Enforcement of Vehicle Weight and Load Securement Rules

In the past few months, I have received comments and inquiries from all over the U.S. regarding what appears to be stepped-up enforcement of both load securement and vehicle weight. It’s not unusual that these topics garner attention from the U.S. Department of Transportation when it comes to carriers, but this recent uptick seems to be directed at smaller commercial vehicles as well as bucket trucks and digger derricks. There have not been any changes of note in the rules for vehicle weight and load securement; however, it appears that some latitude taken by utilities, if not given by the DOT, has caught the attention of those responsible for enforcement of the rules.

In the last couple of years, state enforcement agencies have used local media to inform local commercial businesses – that are not carriers – that they would be stopped if they did not appear to comply with loading and marking standards for their class of vehicles. In Arizona, New Mexico, Washington and Colorado, my colleagues and I began to hear of roadside stops involving lawn maintenance companies and small construction concerns that pulled trailers with loaders, backhoes and super lawn machines. That soon extended to power company trucks, especially those loaded with large wire reels. I even heard of one instance in which state enforcement set up scales in a shopping center parking lot on a well-known route out of a power company service center. Within 40 minutes they cited 22 vehicles for being overweight. You would think drivers would have warned others, but the DOT waved them into the parking area before they started weighing and inspecting the vehicles, so no one knew what to expect. It shouldn’t have been – but it was – a big surprise for that utility’s fleet management to learn what kinds of loads lineworkers were putting on those trailers.

That is part of the problem. Craft workers – including lineworkers, cable splicers and tree workers – are licensed as CMV Class A operators. They take the same exams and demonstrate the same skills to become licensed as any other commercial truck driver does. However, in the utility and utility contractor industry, the frequency and types of violations reported in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) System (https://safer.fmcsa.dot.gov) show a lack of compliance among craft drivers. The top violations of the Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) among utility drivers are vehicle inspections, trailer brakes, vehicle weight, lighting and reflectors. These compliance violations are an easy problem to remedy with training and reminders. Craft workers must understand that when they settle into the seat of that Class 7 vehicle, they are DOT drivers, not craft workers.

Misunderstanding of GVWR
Fleet managers also should be aware that, as of July 2017, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) have been updated and violation codes have been added. Among them are speed and weight class violations for tires, including de-rating of speed and weight class of tires for underinflation. Overloading of tires brings us to both an existing problem and an emerging problem. The existing problem is drivers’ understanding of vehicle and trailering weights, as well as load balancing on trailers. Without being too critical of craft workers, it seems that if a load will fit on a trailer, it goes to the worksite. As a longtime safety auditor, I have found numerous instances of heavily overloaded trailers. In those cases, I found some fairly common reasons for the conditions, including a misunderstanding of gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR).

It’s easy to do. Power units are relatively simple. They are designed to trailer by fifth wheel, and the gross combined vehicle weight rating (GCVWR) is listed right there on the door. Utility trucks often are purchased as chassis cabs with doorplates defining the GCVWR and curb weight of the chassis. Some chassis manufacturers – but not all – list the GCVWR, which is the chassis, payload for the chassis and maximum towing capacity. Once the truck is configured with booms and bodies, the curb weight changes dramatically and so does the payload capacity. Not all manufacturers of equipment replace the doorplates, so the truck arrives with the wrong information on the door. Without curb weight, the trailering capacity is unknown. If the chassis does not have the GCVWR listed, no one will know the capacity of the vehicle for trailering. Add to that the loading of storage bins, and the curb weight is not known. Since the combination weight rating is established by the braking capacity, this issue of overweight truck-trailer combinations can be a serious one on the road.

There is another issue with trailers and loading. Each truck’s GVWR is a combination of curb weight and payload. Payload also includes trailer tongue weight on the truck’s hitching system. Tongue weight is ideally suited to be 10 to 15 percent of the total and trailer load weight. If a trailer always carries the same load, such as a backhoe, the trailer can be configured for the weight and the stops on the deck can assure the load on the trailer is properly balanced for the tongue weight of 10 to 15 percent. However, if utility trailers are used, they can be loaded in any number of loads and balances, often overloading tongues. Overloading a trailer tongue can compromise steering and stopping and increase risks, especially in emergency maneuvers.

Fleet managers should have a program for loading and rating that makes it easy for drivers to match trailers with trucks. Truck doorplates should list GVWR, GCVWR and curb weight of the straight truck with booms mounted and bins loaded. Truck bumpers should be labeled with the maximum trailer weight. Ideally, a single-point scale should be placed in the yard so that drivers can pull up and drop the trailer’s landing gear onto the trailer to see what the tongue weight is.

For trailers, GVWR rating, curb weight and load rating should be marked. Tires should be purchased to meet the weight/speed loads expected on both trucks and trailers. Finally, locate a scale to weigh trucks and axle loads, whether in the yard or off-site. Drivers and foremen should be trained, and each truck should have an information card to show axle weight limits for that specific truck.

CDL Operator Class
The FMCSR as well as most state driver’s license books have pictograms that show silhouette shapes of trucks represented in GVWR classes. With advances in suspension, engine output and rear-end ratios, trucks can haul more than ever. This can lead to some surprise roadside inspection outcomes and really mess with your BASIC scores. For instance, trucks under 10,001 pounds are GVWR Class C and are not regulated by FMCSR. In the past, Ford F-350s and Chevrolets were generally considered exempt from FMCSR. However, a quick look at the load and trailering schedules on these manufacturers’ websites show that F-350s and the GM 3500 series, with the right combinations of suspension, transmission, power plant and rear-end ratios, now can trailer 30,000 pounds. That means that in these extreme rigs, the chassis are now rated as GVWR Class 7 vehicles. If that’s the case, your F-350s must meet all of the requirements of any CMV for inspections, safety equipment, markings, driver qualifications and so on.

Load Securement
Load securement – as it pertains to miscellaneous small items laying in truck beds – is the last item we’ll discuss in this issue. Even though all vehicles under city codes can be cited for losing loads, we must look at load securement from the FMCSR perspective. Load securement has gained focus in large part due to two events that occurred in early 2018 and made national news. Materials from commercial vehicles left the beds of trucks, bounced across narrow medians and entered the windshields of cars passing in the opposite direction. On both occasions, the cars’ drivers were struck in the head; one of the drivers died and the other is permanently disabled. The items that bounced out of the truck beds were a steel wedge about 14 inches long and a 5/8-inch-by-22-inch DA bolt. The owners of the lost materials were never identified, but load securement enforcement for lighter trucks is ramping up across the nation. Enforcement is declaring that the traditional 2-inch-by-6-inch plank often fitted across the tail-end of crew trucks, bucket trucks, mechanics trucks and line trucks, as well as stair or ladder access points, is not load securement. The rule of thumb is if an item can bounce off, it is not secured. Fleet managers should look at their trucks for these small-item control issues and get ahead of the enforcement curve, not in the least to prevent injuring someone from the loss of a pole-top pin at 60 mph. The solutions are many, but we have seen larger solid barriers on sides and rear decks, as well as cargo nets and tarps fitted over pickup, crew and mechanics trucks.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at jim@ispconline.com.


Preventing Future Driving Incidents

Fleet management economics are not just about predictive scheduling, inspection and maintenance. Yes, you can predict and control operating costs by keeping and analyzing records. But one thing you can’t do is predict accidents, other than predicting you will have one at some point. However, accidents – especially expensive ones – don’t have to be an unpredictable liability. In fact, most accidents don’t have to happen at all, although sometimes we as managers enable them.

A few years ago, I got a call from the sheriff of a small town in Tennessee. I was working for a contractor at the time, and one of our trucks had been found on its side in the trees off a small two-lane road. The cab was crushed and our driver was deceased, his body trapped in the wreck for several hours. This was not just a matter of having to cut away the cab. The driver, who was not wearing a seat belt, had been thrown below the steering column in the crash. The cab folded in and around him, and the truck was a total loss.

The reason I chose this story to make the following points is due to how the incident played out within the organization. Everyone was devastated by the loss of the driver. That was expected. But after a few weeks, the incident became the focus of accounting, and that’s when the safety department came under scrutiny. That’s because the highway patrol had completed the incident investigation, and they discovered three enabling elements that – had any of them been changed – would have prevented the accident from occurring. The driver would not have died, the truck would not have been totaled and the financial loss would have been avoided.

These three elements won’t be common to all incidents, but I’ve detailed them here to demonstrate to readers that most incidents are avoidable. In addition, I’ve also identified some cultural initiatives that can prevent the enabling of future incidents.  

Element 1: The Route
The truck was a Freightliner twin-axle, 20-ton digger derrick. There were three main routes from the yard to the project site. It was 7:45 a.m., and the driver voiced concerns about traffic. According to his crewmates, he knew a faster route that was rarely used and would bypass the morning traffic. So, what was the value of the time saved? The incident investigation indicated the backroad route could have saved time only if the 35-mph speed limit was exceeded by 30 mph. The other two routes – an interstate and a four-lane highway – had fewer turns, fewer stops and speed limits of 55 to 65 mph. Perhaps more important was the construction of the roadways. In addition to having fewer turns, the two higher-speed highways had shoulders that varied from 26 inches at the narrowest to 96 inches at the widest. The shoulders became the most important issue because the rural road the driver had chosen had no shoulder. In several places, the road dropped off into rocky ruts just inches off the white line. The highway patrol’s analysis of the cause of the incident was that the right front wheel of the digger derrick dropped off the road into a rut, causing the driver to lose control of the vehicle.

Element 2: Seat Belts
There was never any doubt that the truck driver lost control of the vehicle. A FedEx driver following the truck prior to the crash said the truck lurched to the right and continued to pull farther down the slope until it careened left back toward the highway. The crash analysis indicated the truck’s path clearly followed the FedEx driver’s description. When the truck re-entered the highway, it entered at an angle almost 15 degrees out of line. The re-entry was so hard and fast that the truck went airborne for 22 feet, and then bounced and careened onto its side before plowing into the trees. Evidence from the crash analysis also indicated that the driver never touched the brakes and that, once the turn back toward the road was made, no effective driver control was maintained. Because the driver was not wearing a seat belt, the movement of the cab dislodged him from behind the seat at some point after the vehicle had left the road.

Element 3: Driver Fitness
The autopsy of the driver indicated he likely was impaired by drug use at the time of the incident. The yard where the driver worked from was a small operation in a small town. Everyone knew each other, and in fact, three of the office employees, including the local manager’s secretary, were related to the driver who died in the crash. That may have played a role in the employer’s failure to remove the driver from safety-sensitive functions when it was discovered that he had become addicted to opiates following a back injury the year before. The manager of the operation learned that the driver was abusing opiates when police had come to serve warrants a month earlier. A local pharmacist had discovered that the driver was seeing several doctors and getting hydrocodone prescriptions from each of them. Had the manager reported the discovery to the employer’s DOT manager, the driver would have been removed from safety-sensitive duties and would not have driven on the job again until he had received the help he needed for his condition. It is certain that, had the proper action been taken, he would not have been driving that day.

Driver Safety Training
This sad story becomes even more unfortunate when we realize that simple pre-emptive steps could have prevented it. How many drivers do you have who don’t use seat belts? How many of them know that if you can’t stay behind the wheel, you can’t maintain control of the vehicle? How many of them realize how violent a ride becomes when a truck gets out of control? There is no reason for any employer not to have control of seat-belt use by drivers, but it is one of the top driver-safety deficiencies found in third-party safety audits of utility drivers.

Drivers and DOT compliance officers know the rules, but do your managers? Managers, supervisors and foremen should be given annual refreshers on DOT policies beyond the required reasonable-suspicion training. Supervisory staff also should be aware of DOT requirements for carrier registration, driver qualification and employer/driver policies. Your supervisory staff is the front line. They are the ones who interface with the workforce and are more likely than anyone to be the first to witness risk behaviors that indicate problems.

Driver safety training is key at companies with the best driver performance. This training is not about smooth shifting, inspections or hours-of-service logs. Driver safety programs can be as rigorous as the Smith System or as simple as offerings from your insurance company. Your drivers may be professionals, but that doesn’t mean they have a natural capacity for recognition of risks that can be avoided. Good choices by drivers improve the safety aspects of operating on the road. Drivers need to operate in an environment of control and avoidance. Training to achieve that in your driver force is not difficult or expensive. In the long run, it will be far less of an expense than the next avoidable crash.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 20 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a resident subject matter expert for the Incident Prevention Institute. He can be reached at jim@utilitybusinessmedia.com.


3 Ergonomic Upfits to Combat Work-Related Injuries

When Dan Remmert, manager of fleet services for Ameren Illinois Company, explored the reasons behind his group’s work-related injuries, one issue kept coming up: getting in and out of a vehicle or piece of equipment.

“We’ve had many issues over time related to getting to the back of a bed, a bucket or aerial device,” he said. He also noted that recent vehicle changes have resulted in chassis being taller, “which causes ergonomic challenges for loading, moving and working.”

Complicating matters is the fact that his workers can choose the size ladder they prefer, but Remmert is expected to standardize the fleet’s trucks, including ladder racks. “We use some of the fold-down products on the market, but they just never seem to fit everybody.”

While combatting injuries caused by stepping out of or lifting materials from vehicles is a growing problem for utilities, there are several ergonomically friendly products now on the market that can help prevent some of the most common injuries. Here are three that may benefit your fleet operators.

1. Liftgates with ergonomic features.
It’s no secret to utility fleet workers that getting in and out of a vehicle can cause injuries. Maybe a worker steps off incorrectly and twists something, or constant repetitive motion results in long-term injuries. Add in heavy equipment that must be wrestled out of the back of the vehicle, and the odds of back injuries increase.

But there are solutions available. “We’ve seen ease of use and dependability increase greatly with ramps and liftgates,” said Spero Skarlatos, manager of truck excellence for Element Fleet Management (www.elementfleet.com).

He noted that some liftgates now have a cantilever design that allows a platform as wide as the van itself. Some of those are hinged to the vehicle’s rear doors so they easily swing out. “Liftgates and ramps relieve the driver of having to physically lift a box so they can use a cart instead,” Skarlatos said.

Maxon Lift (www.maxonlift.com) makes nothing but liftgates and is constantly innovating to meet customer needs. An interlocking handrail on the liftgate is one recent enhancement. That was developed in conjunction with Smithfield, a large meat packer.

“While it’s not a utility fleet, the concerns are the same,” said Anton Griessner, Maxon’s vice president of marketing and business development. “It’s about the safe handling of loads and avoiding having the operator lifting heavy things.”

Of course, the liftgate itself can bring its own challenges, with the worker trying to maneuver the heavy gate into position, often from the ground. Maxon’s latest solution allows the worker to raise the lift about halfway up so that it can then be folded in.

“When you manipulate the liftgate, you can do it at an angle, which is as efficient and ergonomic as possible and at the level that offers the best leverage,” Griessner said.

2. Shelving that puts needed materials in reach.
Skarlatos said that vans and pickup trucks now include a cabinet with multiple shelves that are accessible from the ground level outside the vehicle. It’s akin to a catering operation; vehicles used for that purpose typically contain multiple racks that slide in and out. In the utility fleet environment, the shelves can store tools and products that the driver uses regularly. “Instead of accessing the back of the van, the trays keep the driver outside the vehicle, standing on both feet,” Skarlatos said.

3. New vehicle styles.
While it’s not an upfit per se, one of the biggest current industry trends is changes in vehicles themselves, according to Skarlatos. Euro-design vans are a game changer because they offer easier access and prevent drivers from crouching while in the back of a van. “You can stand up from the driver’s seat, walk into the back of the van and then step out the rear doors by using the step bumpers,” Skarlatos said. “This has been an evolution of the vans to help with ergonomics.”

And when the shelves that put needed materials in reach are included, this eliminates the need for the driver to get back inside the vehicle. “Anytime you limit the times that you’re stepping in or stepping down, reaching and pulling, we’re increasing the driver’s quality of life at work,” Skarlatos said.

Of course, no two fleet needs are the same, even within the utility industry. That’s why working with suppliers is critical. “You have to really explain what you do and how you do it,” Griessner said. “And there still can be a big difference between what the fleet and safety managers try to achieve and what the operators do. Out of this trust in a vendor can come a very good end product.”

About the Author: Sandy Smith is a freelance writer and editor based in Nashville, Tenn.


Ergonomics Issues Can Be Costly
OSHA issued ergonomics mandates in the early 2000s, which were subsequently voided by Congress. Nonetheless, there are common-sense reasons to pay attention to ergonomics in utility fleets. For instance, in 2011 – the most recent year for which statistics are available – workers’ compensation paid out $29.6 billion in medical bills and another $30.3 billion in lost wages, according to the Social Security Administration. And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
• Musculoskeletal disorders – the broad term for sprains and strains from overexertion – accounted for three in 10 of the total work-related injuries in 2015.
• The average loss of work for a musculoskeletal disorder was 12 days in 2015. That compares with an average of eight days for all injuries that resulted in days off work.
• Falls, slips and trips were the second-largest category of work-related injuries, at 27 percent.
• Workers aged 45-54 had the highest number of missed days due to work-related injuries.


The Final 3

Each issue, we ask a fleet professional to share three keys to fleet success.

This issue’s Final 3 participant is Pete J. Matrunola, director of fleet services at Consumers Energy (www.consumersenergy.com), Michigan’s largest electric and gas utility with 6,227 assets in its fleet.

#1. Make safety the No. 1 priority.
“Safety is the most essential component of a successful utility fleet. So, take the time to invest in safety initiatives and programs that instill a culture around providing a safe work environment and excellent service for your employees and your customers. Safety must not simply be something that is done when it is convenient – it must be a core value and the only way to perform your work.”

#2. Build relationships.
“At work and in life, it is always easier to accomplish tasks and goals when everyone is working together. Spend time with your employees, customers and vendors to fully understand them and their needs, wants, limitations, abilities and so forth. By forging those relationships with your employees and business partners, each becomes engaged to achieve the common goal – to build a safe, reliable, cost-effective and compliant fleet operation.”

#3. Know your finances.
“Your fleet department will always be asked to do more with less. As such, it is critical to fully understand your finances and be flexible enough to quickly adjust to the growing needs of the business. Also, be receptive to change and look to instill a culture of continuous improvement. This will stimulate an efficient fleet that drives consistent financial performance.”


Upfitting Cargo Vans with Ergonomics in Mind

In order to keep employee health costs and downtime to a minimum, ergonomics – or fitting a job to the person performing the job – must play a big role in upfitting fleet vehicles.

Many of today’s fleet administrators are tuned in to the importance of employee ergonomics, and an ever-increasing number are focused on keeping their utility fleet vehicle drivers safe and efficient, rather than simply giving them the tools to do their jobs. The mindset has evolved from determining vehicle shelf capacity and how ladders will be stored to asking questions of individual drivers such as:
• Do you need to carry all of your inventory and multiple ladders at all times?
• Which frequently used items can be located near the doors so you don’t need to climb into the vehicle?
• Is there a safer way to transport and access your ladders?
• How can you stay safe on the job without sacrificing productivity?

For cargo van drivers, one of the primary ergonomic issues associated with using that type of vehicle is climbing in and out of it, often while stepping over items on the floor with their arms full of gear. To minimize the need to enter the van – as well as the risk of back or joint injury – drivers should determine the tools and inventory they frequently use and place those items near the doors for easy access from outside the van. This can be accomplished using shelving and bins located within arm’s reach, drawers that open out through the cargo door and hooks for quick grab-and-go items.

Another major safety concern that stems from the use of cargo vans is the accessibility and use of ladders. Ladders have traditionally been carried on the roof of service vehicles, posing great risk to employees’ shoulders and backs when they attempt to retrieve, carry and stow these heavy pieces of equipment. Today, the goal of fleet administrators and upfitters alike is to find a way to make ladder use less of a liability. One solution is drop-down ladder racks. On a cargo van equipped with a drop-down rack, ladders are still carried on the vehicle’s roof, but a mechanized rack raises and lowers the ladders up and down the side of the van, delivering improved ergonomics for loading and unloading.

A second option to consider is keeping ladders inside the van. Workers can store short ladders upright on the partition or shelf end, hang them from the ceiling, or stow them under a subfloor or on a ladder shelf. By determining the ladder or ladders that need to be carried first, and by considering the vehicle being used, a utility fleet’s upfitter can suggest the best ladder storage options for optimal ergonomics.

Education is Essential
In order to create the most ergonomic vehicle work interiors, it is critical for utility fleet managers to research options, interview drivers and collaborate with the fleet’s upfitter. But what happens if – after the vehicles have been upfitted – driver feedback is still less than ideal? What’s missing? Is it possible that the drivers don’t fully understand how to make the upfit work for them?

Driver education is an essential part of the process of upfitting vehicles for improved ergonomics. When the vehicles are first delivered, fleet managers should be sure to lead a walk-around with their drivers to explain in detail why a shelf or drawer is located in a specific place and what cargo it is intended to hold. Recommend that frequently used items be positioned near the door, while other items can be stored deeper in the van. Demonstrate how to safely load and unload ladders. In addition to being an ergonomics and a safety imperative, training drivers is key to getting the most out of the fleet’s upfit investment.

And make no mistake, it is an investment. Fleet managers invest time and money upfront to create a work environment that suits employees, with the goal of improved efficiency and minimized downtime. When upfits and employee training are properly executed, the utility’s return on investment will include greater driver satisfaction, increased productivity and more satisfied customers.

About the Author: Tricia Singer has been writing for the commercial vehicle market for more than 18 years and has extensive experience within the commercial van equipment and upfitting industry. Her background includes marketing and graphic design for the Adrian Steel Co. (www.adriansteel.com).


Make Your Current Vehicles Work Better for You
If new vehicles or upfits aren’t in your immediate future, here are a few ideas to improve the ergonomics of your current interiors.
• Re-evaluate the cargo you are carrying. Do you need everything?
• Items that are used on most jobs should be stored near the van’s doors so you don’t have to climb into the van to reach them. Add storage hooks or removable totes to these areas for additional organization.
• Store items that aren’t accessed every day – but must be kept on hand – deeper in the van. They’ll be easy to locate without getting in the way of other items you need to access more frequently.
• Store large and heavy items on the floor or as close to waist-high as possible to ease in lifting.
• Learn the proper, most ergonomic way to load and unload ladders from the roof racks you are using.


Keeping Crews Warm in Winter

Winter is approaching, and for utilities operating in the Frost Belt, keeping crews warm isn’t just a good thing to do – it’s a safety imperative.

For vehicle cab comfort, the choices fall between keeping the engine running and using the truck’s HVAC system, or using an auxiliary heater. As always, the choice depends on the fleet’s desires.

The simplest solution is to keep the engine running, but that’s a costly option for fleet managers focused on keeping down fuel costs. Idle-limiting systems help fleets get over that hurdle. With numerous choices available on the aftermarket, these systems automatically shut down the engine at a work site, periodically turning it on for a few minutes to recharge the batteries to power the PTO and hydraulics. They significantly reduce fuel use, and the length of time the engine runs can be adjusted to ensure the truck’s heater keeps the cab comfortable.

Avista Utilities, based in Spokane, Wash., is testing a system from ZeroRPM (www.zerorpm.com) that has a cab comfort setting to maintain temperatures when the truck is on-site. The system automatically starts the engine and will run an average of five to seven minutes every hour, depending on the level of heat needed, according to Evan Miller, ZeroRPM’s vice president of sales. “The system can provide full HVAC service if [the fleet] wants. There are different applications for heat,” he said.

Avista’s primary goals are to reduce fuel costs while keeping the crew’s safety at the forefront, and the ZeroRPM system suits their needs, said Greg Loew, fleet manager. “We do burn a sizable chunk of fuel a year idling vehicles, but you have to think about how to take care of the guys who are out there,” he said. “It’s a safety thing and it’s a critical thing to consider. You need systems that allow the guys to be comfortable.”

If the idle mitigation system performs well this winter, Avista will consider adding more during the next buying cycle, Loew said.

Don’t want – or need – to run the engine, even periodically? Auxiliary air and coolant heaters from companies such as Eberspaecher Climate Control Systems (www.eberspaecher.com) and Webasto (www.webasto.com) will handle cold-weather needs while saving engine use. These systems operate independently of a truck’s temperature control system and typically use a fraction of the fuel a truck would use while idling, according to the manufacturers.

If all you need to heat is the air inside the cab, auxiliary air heaters are the way to go. These are mounted inside the cab and tied into the truck’s fuel line.

Hydronic (coolant) heaters are integrated in series or parallel to the existing coolant lines and will preheat the engine and also supply warm air into the cab via the vehicle’s heat exchanger, explained John Dennehy, Eberspaecher’s vice president of marketing and communications. The heaters are mounted inside the engine compartment or along the frame rail.

Detroit-based DTE Energy uses a variety of systems to keep trucks operating and crews warm in winter temperatures that often hit below zero, said Gerard Huvaere, procurement specialist. The hydronic system from Eberspaecher (formerly Espar) heats the coolant to help engine starting, ensure cab comfort and warm the aerials’ hydraulic oils. DTE also uses Eberspaecher space heaters as well as Altec’s JEMS (Jobsite Energy Management System), an auxiliary battery-based system that provides power for job site needs and cab comfort systems.

DTE is looking for “startability and employee comfort” in its heating systems, Huvaere said. “All closed work spaces have some sort of heating.”

Crews like a system that gives them the ability to set the start time, but in the end, Huvaere said, it’s “any system that keeps them warm.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Selecting Auxiliary Heaters
The first decision utility fleet managers have to make when considering an auxiliary heating system is which type fits their needs: hydronic or air.

The simple answer is that if all the fleet needs to heat is the vehicle’s cab, an air heater will do the job. Air heaters consume a fraction of fuel per hour compared with an idling truck. The Air Top 2000 ST from Webasto, for example, will use about 1 gallon of fuel per 22 hours, according to the company. Air heaters also are easier to install and cost less than hydronic systems.

Size depends on the space to be heated, but John Dennehy, vice president of marketing and communications for Eberspaecher Climate Control Systems, said the company’s smaller model would be appropriate for most utility cabs.

Hydronic systems, on the other hand, are used to preheat the engine coolant, provide heat to the cab and warm the aerial hydraulics, if needed. Suppliers offer multiple sizes depending on engine sizes and the fleet’s needs, but the smaller sizes may suffice for most utility fleet needs.

The principal benefit of auxiliary heaters is lower fuel costs. Suppliers have simple fuel-saving calculators on their websites, but beyond direct fuel savings, the total cost savings from using an auxiliary heater in lieu of idling the engine may also come from longer service intervals, longer engine life and improved startability on cold mornings.


Assessing and Enforcing Distracted Driving Policies

Policies that prohibit employees from using cellphones or being otherwise distracted while driving are so common today that it would be hard to find a utility company without one.

In fact, in 2011 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration banned the use of all hand-held mobile devices by commercial vehicle drivers. This includes anyone driving a vehicle heavier than 10,000 pounds during interstate business, not just heavy-duty truck drivers with commercial driver’s licenses. Penalties can range from driver disqualification to fines for both the driver and the carrier. Additionally, as of press time, 14 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cellphones while driving.

The real issue for utility fleets, and for any company with vehicles for that matter, is how to measure a policy’s effectiveness. How do companies know if their policy is working?

It’s not easy to figure out, partly because most distracted driving policies are one piece of a company’s larger employee safety program. Aside from post-accident investigations, which should turn up any ill-timed use of a mobile device, measuring the efficacy of distracted driving policies is a little tricky, executives acknowledged.

A 2011 study of distracted driving issues by the Governors Highway Safety Association noted simply that distracted driving communications campaigns and company policies and programs are widely used but have not been evaluated.

Houston-based CenterPoint Energy established its distracted driving policy in 2010. Al Payton, the company’s director of safety and technical training, said he did not have specific data about the efficacy of the program separate from the company’s overall employee safety program, but noted that CenterPoint has had a steady decrease in its number of total incidents. More to the point, the company has seen a change in the types of incidents since CenterPoint implemented a distracted driving policy. “There’s been a decrease in rear-end collisions … which may indicate that our drivers are less distracted,” he said.

Southern California Edison’s policy “prohibits a litany of actions” on hand-held devices, according to Don Neal, the utility’s director of corporate environmental, health and safety. That includes texting and talking and covers smartphones, tablets, PDAs and more. The exceptions are push-to-talk radios and Bluetooth wireless headsets.

“If we have any incident and find that the employee was using a hand-held device, that employee goes into a progressive disciplinary program where the result could be anywhere from a note to termination,” Neal said.

Bill Orlove, spokesman for Florida Power and Light Co., said the company does not have data on its policy’s efficacy but noted that the fleet communicates with drivers throughout the year and at safety meetings.

FPL’s distracted driving policy prohibits all employees from using any hand-held device while behind the wheel on behalf of the company, he said.

“That means no texting, no emailing, no accessing the Internet, etc.,” he said.

Technology’s Role
Technologies that control and limit the use of mobile devices by drivers are giving fleet managers more proactive ways to enforce policies.

The most common systems plug in to the vehicle’s onboard diagnostics port and work with Bluetooth-enabled devices to block texting or most any use of a mobile device once the vehicle is in motion.

Telogis’ DriveSafe program, for example, is an add-on option that can be used in conjunction with Telogis’ telematics applications and connect to a driver’s device. It works with Android and iOS applications.

“It ensures that the driver is not distracted,” said Erin Cave, vice president of product management.

FleetSafer, from Aegis Mobility, and Kyrus Mobile are two other systems. Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission has a Distracted Driving Information Clearinghouse that provides additional sources and services. Visit www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/distracted-driving-information-clearinghouse.

The issue, executives said, comes down to balancing employee safety and productivity. Fleets are going to have to find the balance between the productivity opportunities available with today’s communication technologies and the obligation to provide their employees a safe workplace. And for those who spend their days on the road, a safe workplace means a safe vehicle.

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.

Photo: Courtesy of Jean Anderson/Southern California Edison


Using Virtual Tools to Create a Safer Reality for Utility Fleets

Successful organizations operate under the mindset that people are their most important assets, and they always take employee safety into consideration when making business decisions. Safe employees are happier, have greater rates of productivity, are more supportive of clients and contribute to the bottom line. Does your organization already have this mentality? Or is there some room for improvement?

For companies with vehicle fleets, the need for workplace safety extends beyond brick-and-mortar environments; avoiding on-the-job incidents is even more critical when an employee gets behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle and drives on public roads.

Motor vehicle crashes are the No. 1 cause of occupational fatalities and cost fleet owners more than $60 billion each year. A three-year study published in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (see www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/docs/Commercial_Motor_Vechicle_Facts_March_2013.pdf) reported that on average, more than 30,000 lives were lost annually in vehicle-related traffic crashes from 2009 to 2011. Of those deaths, nearly 10 percent directly involved large trucks, which are defined as vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds. Additional crash statistics drawn from the study can be found in the chart below.

FMCSA Stats Chart Web

Although there are myriad factors that contribute to motor vehicle traffic crashes, a better-educated driver is arguably a safer, more alert and more defensive driver. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your company’s driver training program isn’t in need of its own corrective action.

“Delivering targeted safety training is critical for educating drivers on hazards and defensive techniques, potentially avoiding incidents and managing risk overall,” said Bill Doman, department head at ARI (www.arifleet.com), a fleet management company headquartered in New Jersey. “But as a fleet professional, how do you accomplish this when your workforce is already trying to do more with less?”

A Balanced Training Approach
Going virtual is a large part of the answer to that question, according to Doman, who works with driver-facing programs at ARI. “Virtual training can help overcome logistical challenges, get more drivers trained faster and help protect your organization both proactively and post-incident.”

Compared to other fleet types, utilities have unique training requirements due to the additional responsibilities of most drivers. For certain educational needs, behind-the-wheel or direct classroom training is the most effective way of preparing personnel to safely operate vehicles and equipment. The logistics and planning involved with these training methods, however, can be costly, result in downtime or not cover all applicable drivers.

For certain training needs, a virtual learning management system (LMS) can be the quickest and most effective way to deliver important safety education to as many drivers as possible. An LMS is a software application for the administration, tracking and delivery of electronic educational technology.

For example, instead of sitting operators in a classroom or at individual kiosks to passively watch videos, an online module can deliver the same content in an interactive fashion with a quiz at the culmination of the module to test for comprehension. Drivers might even dread training less if there’s a little more variety at play.

“A balanced training approach will include an assortment of classroom, behind-the-wheel and virtual methodology,” Doman said. “We’re finding that an increasing number of fleet owners are taking a fresh look at how they train their drivers to determine where virtual modules can be a good fit.”

How Virtual Training Works
Virtual training is delivered via online modules that engage drivers in a variety of interactive exercises and activities. Common topics include aggressive driving, avoiding crashes, distractions, speeding, limited visibility, towing and parking lot safety. Training recipients are prompted throughout the module to click and participate with the lesson at hand.

“Drivers aren’t just bombarded with text and statistics to passively memorize,” Doman explained. “They interact with the content and complete a comprehension test at the end to help ensure they retain the information.”

Training can be done on a desktop computer, laptop and even mobile devices. This means that drivers can go through training simultaneously in an infinite number of locations. What’s even better is that this also means more employees are receiving safety training faster and more frequently, instead of having to wait for a scheduled class.

Many virtual training providers will also supply proactive skill assessments to help identify at-risk drivers before there is an incident. Based on assessment results, drivers can be matched with the appropriate modules. Targeted modules can also be assigned to drivers who have recently been involved in a collision or received a violation.

Ensuring compliance with your vehicle policy is another good use for these modules. Your organization invested time and effort in assembling a thorough policy, and it’s imperative to verify that the drivers are actually reading it.

“After reviewing an online version of the company’s fleet policy, the drivers electronically acknowledge that they read the policy and take a comprehension quiz,” Doman said. “These modules can be customized with special touches to reflect the company’s culture, such as a video message from senior management demonstrating the organization’s commitment to safety.”

The Real Value Proposition
Adopting a robust blend of training content and delivery to help keep your drivers and others on the road safe just makes sense. It’s the right thing to do. But there are many more reasons to invest in a diversified safety approach, most of which have a measurable, positive financial impact for your organization. Among these reasons are:
• Decreased crash rate. Crashes are expensive. The crash that never happened can potentially pay for an entire year of training for all of your drivers.
• Positive community image. Safe drivers are typically courteous drivers who will reinforce a positive association with the branding on your fleet vehicles.
• Goodwill among clients. Your clients appreciate patronizing a company that values its employees and has a reputation for safety. It’s simply good business.
• Reduced liability exposure. Trained drivers help mitigate risk through better driving behaviors. And, by offering training to those who operate company assets, your organization is demonstrating a culture of safety.
• Decreased fuel spending. Teaching drivers more efficient driving techniques can lower your overall fuel expenses.
• Reduced maintenance expenses. Behaviors such as hard stops can increase premature wear on vehicle components. Training reminds drivers that every decision can have a long-term impact.

Above all, the most important reason to invest in safety training is because crashes can take lives. “Getting your drivers home safely is the most compelling reason to take another look at your training regimen,” Doman emphasized. “Safety is the best example of where trying to cut upfront spending can be exorbitantly more costly in the event of a fatal incident. The harshest reality is that you can’t replace a life at any cost.”


Selling Safety to Utility Fleet Drivers

Despite the ubiquity of technology in almost everyone’s world today, drivers may resent the introduction of a GPS or telematics system by company management if they feel the technology is going to be used to spy on them. But explaining that these systems can improve safety, enhance driving skills and even reduce paperwork can go a long way to getting driver buy-in, said several fleet managers and industry executives.

Pacific Gas and Electric already had a fleet management system in place, but the company decided to look to technology as a way of improving driver safety and performance. In particular, they wanted to test telematics systems that fed performance data back to operations. Before doing that, however, fleet representatives first met with the union drivers and explained that the systems were being designed to improve their driving, not to discipline them.

“Drivers are always concerned about Big Brother and being disciplined for their behavior,” said David Meisel, senior director of transportation and aviation services for the San Francisco-based utility. “We explained that this is for their safety, to improve their driving so they can be safer drivers.”

The utility giant tested three systems that featured an in-cab coach, either a tone or voice that alerted the drivers when they exceeded some preset parameter. The test was a success, Meisel said. Drivers cut their speeding by 90 percent and their unsafe actions by 80 percent. As a result, the company is rolling out the system to 1,000 more units.

“Folks took it for what it was: a way to improve safety. It’s hard to say becoming a safer driver is a bad idea,” Meisel said.

Union drivers at Tanner Electric Cooperative in North Bend, Wash., were wary that a system from GPS Insight would be used to spy on them, but again, safety was a big selling point, said Jim Anderson, manager of operations and engineering. The co-op has remote locations, including one crew on an island in Puget Sound, and the ability to quickly locate units in emergencies is crucial.

“Once it was explained like that, they accepted it. And they’re doing very well with it,” Anderson said.

Keep Drivers Involved
It’s important to keep drivers updated about their performance and reward good driving behavior, said Frank Cottone, group manager of support services at Pepco in Washington, D.C. In 2013, the company started a program to cut vehicle idling using data collected from their Telogis onboard system. Cottone said Pepco shares the results – positive or negative – each month so that drivers can see where they stand compared with other drivers. Cottone credits the program for reducing unnecessary idling by 19 percent.

“Although some drivers still had privacy concerns, we diminished those concerns with constant communications about the program and by keeping our employees safe,” Cottone said.

Today’s technologies can benefit drivers through better communication, reduced paperwork and a more accurate accounting of their day, noted Ryan Driscoll, marketing director for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based GPS Insight. Even something as simple as knowing which vehicle is closest to the next job helps the driver.

“It means smarter allocation of the driver’s work,” he said.

The pervasiveness of tablets, smartphones and onboard technologies is connecting the worker with the employer and the employer’s mission, and that can make drivers more accepting of change, said Tim Taylor, chief success officer for Telogis.

“Excellent companies have something dynamic in their culture, a vibrant culture that they share with the workers,” he said. “These systems can connect the worker with this culture. It spreads accountability and responsibility [and] connects the workers with the mission of the company.”

About the Author: Jim Galligan has been covering the commercial truck transportation sector for more than 30 years and has extensive experience covering the utility fleet market. In addition to writing and editing for magazines, his background also includes writing for daily newspapers, trade associations and corporations.


Sidebar: Survey Says
The use of GPS and/or telematics systems is helping fleets cut costs, improve operations and increase productivity, according to a study by management and research firm ARI.

By far, most fleets – 92 percent – report they are using the data from these systems to monitor speeding, ARI reported in its 2014 Utility Fleet Benchmark Study. The next two most common uses for these technologies are to monitor vehicle utilization (77 percent of the responding fleets) and for dispatching (69 percent). Fleets also are using the systems to plan routes and capture odometer readings (46 percent each), capture engine hours (39 percent), monitor hard braking and diagnose engines (31 percent each) and monitor hard cornering (15 percent).

With these technologies, 77 percent of fleets said they reduced vehicle idle time and 69 percent said they saw improved driver behavior. Other gains included decreased transit times, increased driver productivity and increased vehicle utilization (31 percent each), improved preventive maintenance interval accuracy (23 percent) and reduced accident rates (15 percent).

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