Fleet Profiles

Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Grounding Utility Fleet Trucks

There is probably not a fleet mechanic or fleet manager who has not heard something about grounds for trucks. But for all the talk about grounding trucks, including rules and commentary, there is very little consideration for how grounding connections are made to a vehicle. Unlike most every other procedure in the utility industry, there are no OSHA guidelines, consensus standards or best practices for connecting the truck to the truck ground. There are rules requiring grounding of trucks, but there are no best practices, procedures or methodologies for connecting grounds or ground attachments to trucks to allow grounding. So, that’s what we’re going to discuss in this installation of “Focus on Fleet Safety.”

For fleet managers to effectively facilitate the grounding of trucks, we need to understand the purpose of grounding and why it fails to do the job expected. Actually, the job expected often is the bigger issue because it may not be what you think. Grounding a truck does not directly protect workers from electrical shock, nor does it eliminate a shock hazard. Grounding trucks has one purpose: to cause immediate operation of a protective device. The protective device is the circuit breaker through which voltage and current are delivered to the electrical system. A truck is not an electrical conductor – it is a mechanical device, meaning that to ensure that current flow across the truck is sufficient to cause operation of the circuit protective device, an electrical connection must be employed to bypass the vehicle’s nonelectrical isolation from ground. Nonelectrical isolation refers to mechanical interfaces of bolted parts, the rubber tires and the outriggers on earth. Current has to pass these mechanical barriers to initiate circuit-breaker operation. In an electrical contact with a truck, the circuit breaker feeding the system in contact with the truck may not trip. As often happens, the circuit will continue to feed current into the vehicle, resulting in fire as well as a continuing electrical shock hazard to any person near the truck. So, the purpose of grounding is to create a good path for electrical current to flow. That good path causes a higher current to flow, resulting in fast tripping of the breaker feeding the electrical circuit. Fast tripping minimizes the damage to the electrical system and the truck.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Are Those Tools and Equipment Approved?

We provide tools and equipment for our crews. Sometimes they are special tools, and sometimes they are generic tools necessary to support routine crew work. Sometimes they are accessories for trucks and equipment, and sometimes they are simply extra tools or equipment to make things easier on the people in the field. The question then is, are these tools approved?

The following is going to aggravate some readers, so let’s start with a reminder: I attempt to clarify and simplify compliance with this series. This is about making compliance easier and sometimes less expensive. So, here is an example.

A few years ago, I approved a transmission construction crew’s replacement of a 5/8-inch wire-rope winchline with a 7/8-inch synthetic winchline. The crew wanted to increase a safety margin for dropping poles down through energized circuits by eliminating the steel winchline from the energized environment. Fleet managers also approved the replacement and sent the new synthetic winchline to the worksite’s mechanic. The fleet mechanic had removed the wire rope from the crane to a wooden reel and was in the process of winding on the synthetic when the client’s safety managers stopped the work. Their company had a strict interpretation of “manufacturer-approved.” They required a like-for-like replacement unless the winchline was OSHA-approved.  The original wire rope was load-rated at 44,000 pounds. The mechanic showed the inspector that the new synthetic was rated higher at 57,000 pounds. It didn’t matter to the client because their rule was no modifications to the winchline without written approval from the manufacturer.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

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.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

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.

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Jim Vaughn, CUSP

Preventing Future Driving Incidents

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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.

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