Prevent Rollaway Injuries and Death with Simple Safety Precautions
James Baker, George H.W. Bush’s former Chief of Staff, coined the phrase “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance” about building a company. His sentiments hold true for all of us within the towing industry, too. Our crews are called to the site of accidents to help clear roads and get drivers and passengers to a safe location, but in that work, it’s easy for things to go wrong.
Between 2011 and 2016, 191 towing workers were killed on the job. Nonfatal injury rates are 204 per 10,000 full-time workers–over twice the average of other industries. 34% of nonfatal injuries were caused by contact with objects and equipment.
Here are just some simple safety precautions for the tow industry.
One common cause of injury and death is vehicle roll-away. According to OSHA, accidents are routinely reported where tow truck drivers fail to use chock-blocks correctly or employees and bystanders were dangerously positioned behind the carrier’s deck when the winch malfunctioned.
Winches are commonly used to pull vehicles onto the tow truck. A typical truck’s winch will contain somewhere between 50 and 100 feet of wired cable. To begin the process, the towing operator releases the winch by “freewheeling” the locking mechanism so the spool turns quickly and allows the operator to pull the cable to the vehicle.
Once correctly secured to the vehicle, the winch is turned on, and the combined strength of the hydraulic spool and the wire will pull the car or truck onto the carrier bed. This phase is hazardous as many issues can happen to cause injury or death. If either the hydraulic hose gives out or the cable snaps from the winch, the vehicle will be untethered and roll back off the carrier. Operator error can also cause roll-aways by failing to ensure winches are fully locked in and secure before pulling begins.
Rollaways are also common when cars or trucks are on their side and must be rolled over before towing. Proper procedures require towing operators to estimate where the tires will be placed when the vehicle is pulled upright and set lumber or blocks appropriately to prevent the vehicle from immediately rolling.
In either situation, it’s crucial for tow operators, emergency responders, and vehicle owners to stay out of the zone behind a tow truck during loading and unloading. Since towing operators may be focused on the winch equipment and the vehicle during the loading or unloading process, it can be beneficial to ask emergency personnel or others on the scene to keep everyone clear of the area behind the tow truck. Parking a police car behind the vehicle and using pylons to signify a “no stand zone” will keep everyone safe if the tow breaks free of the truck.
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