UFP Magazine

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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Sandy Smith

3 Ergonomic Upfits to Combat Work-Related Injuries

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.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Final 3

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.”

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Tricia Singer

Upfitting Cargo Vans with Ergonomics in Mind

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.

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Jim Galligan

Keeping Crews Warm in Winter

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.

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Jim Galligan

Assessing and Enforcing Distracted Driving Policies

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?

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Kate Wade

Using Virtual Tools to Create a Safer Reality for Utility Fleets

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.

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Jim Galligan

Selling Safety to Utility Fleet Drivers

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.

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Sean M. Lyden

The Latest Developments in Crash Avoidance Systems

Daimler-Mercedes-2-WebIn July, Daimler, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, debuted its fully autonomous Future Truck 2025 with an on-highway test drive on the Autobahn near Magdeburg, Germany.

And while a production model of the self-driving truck may be more than a decade away, many of the technologies required to make autonomous driving a reality are available today. They're known as crash avoidance systems, which serve as an extra set of eyes to help keep drivers and the public safe.

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Sean M. Lyden

Four Technologies That Curb Distracted Driving

Origo-1-WebBing! A new text message. Your phone is facedown on the passenger seat. You know you should ignore it and keep your eyes on the road, but you’re curious. Is it urgent? Is it my boss? A quick look won’t hurt, right? I’m a good driver; I can handle this!

But the research says otherwise.

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Sean M. Lyden

Latest Developments in Self-Inflating Tires

Halo-V2-WebWhat if tires could inflate themselves and maintain optimal pressure at all times, with no human intervention required? How much of an impact could that make on fuel efficiency, tire life cycle, driver safety and a fleet’s bottom line?

New self-inflating tire technologies being developed today may provide a glimpse into future possibilities.

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Tom Gelinas

Shop Safety and Efficiency

Safety is a high priority of professional fleet managers. Fleets are known to spec their operating equipment to be the safest possible for the work they will be doing, and they train their operators to always work with safety in mind. In addition to safety, efficiency also is an important aspect of operations in well-run maintenance shops.

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Sean M. Lyden

Driver Behaviors that Waste Fuel – and How to Correct Them

Lyden-SageQuest-1-WebAs utility fleets look for ways to blunt the impact of rising fuel costs on their bottom line, one opportunity for substantial cost savings can be found in training and motivating their drivers to operate their vehicles with more fuel efficiency.

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