Raise Your Site’s Level of Bucket Truck Safety
The vehicles we recognize as “bucket trucks” are among the most versatile and useful on worksites. When operated properly, they provide a safe platform that allows workers to perform elevated tasks with confidence. Because the bucket is stable, workers are free to use both arms and hands to perform tasks, providing greater efficiency. That’s why you’ll see bucket trucks used by companies ranging from public utilities to painters and tree-trimmers.
While bucket trucks are fairly simple to operate, they do present a unique set of hazards, including a risk for falls, the potential for tipping over, as well as increased possibilities for collision with other stationary or moving objects and contact with electric power wires. This article will provide an overview of the hazards associated with bucket truck operation, as well as steps that can be taken to minimize the danger to workers, properties, and the trucks themselves.
Preventing falls. As with any type of elevated work, performing tasks in a bucket truck creates the risk of falling. Even though workers may not feel that they are high up, any fall from more than a few feet carries the risk of significant injury and even death. That’s why it’s so important that workers always wear adequate fall protection while working in the bucket, such as a body belt and harness with a lanyard that can be attached to the bucket or the boom. It’s also important to compute the fall distance before performing each task. If the worker’s fall protection is designed for a 20-foot fall and the worker is only 12 feet above the ground, he’ll hit that ground long before the protection has a chance to work.
While in the bucket, workers must always keep both feet on the floor and make sure there is no debris that could present a trip hazard. They should never try to sit or stand on the edge of the bucket itself. Nor should they try to extend their reach by placing a ladder or a step stool in the bucket. Finally, workers should never attempt to climb down from a raised bucket. It may take a couple minutes to fully lower the bucket, but doing so provides the only safe exit.
Avoiding tip-overs. When the boom is extended and the bucket is raised, the truck’s center of gravity changes dramatically. Add in the weight of the worker and any tools he is using, and the potential for the truck to tip over increases. To minimize the possibility, the truck must be parked on level ground made up of stable material. Parking on soft earth, sand, or even gravel may increase the potential for a tip-over. If the truck is equipped with outriggers, they should be extended fully and positioned properly, once again on stable material, before the bucket is raised. Brakes should be set, and if wheel chocks are appropriate, they should be placed. (And never put the truck against an object such as a building or another vehicle in an effort to stabilize it.)
Workers must comply with the bucket’s load capacity and remember that any objects they bring with them have to be factored into that capacity. In addition, a bucket truck is not designed to be used as a crane. Trying to use the bucket to lift objects dramatically increases the likelihood that the truck will tip over. Unless the truck is specifically designed to be moved when the bucket is extended, do not operate the truck under those conditions.
Pay attention to weather conditions, too. High winds create the potential for tip-overs, so obey the manufacturer’s recommendations for wind speeds. If there is any doubt as to whether the current weather allows for safe operation, delay work until conditions improve.
Stay clear of collisions. The bucket assembly may protrude beyond the edges of the truck, so drivers must be careful to avoid other vehicles, buildings, or pedestrians. Knowing the truck’s vertical clearance is very important. In addition to bridges and building overhangs, drivers must be careful not to drive into tree branches that hang below the vertical clearance. When driving around any kind of obstruction, the best advice is to slow down. That way, if there is any unintended contact, the damage is less likely to be severe.
Watch for power lines and energized equipment, too, both while driving and while work is being performed. Even if the bucket itself is insulated, a worker inside the bucket is in danger if there is contact with a live electrical circuit.
Perform a daily check. Bucket truck operators should check the safety of their vehicles before beginning each shift. That includes a visual check of the truck’s exterior and systems to ensure that tires and other parts are sound, and that no parts are leaking oil or hydraulic fluid. It’s very important to check safety features and make sure that any required safety equipment or signage is in place.
Test the boom and lift controls to ensure proper operation. Make sure that equipment moves freely and that there are no unusual sounds. Verify that hydraulic and electrical lines are in safe condition. Before driving to the worksite, check the brakes and steering, too.
One last point: in the hands of a properly trained operator, a bucket truck is a powerful tool. In the hands of someone who doesn’t know what he’s doing, it can be a deadly weapon. When ending the workday or taking a break from work, shut the truck down, secure all safety devices, and remove the key. That will keep the curious and the unauthorized from causing damage or injuries.