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Off Road, On Your Toes

By on October 28, 2009
RoadKing Mag

Way back when, Dave Parsons was driving a semi, pulling logs across the Pacific Northwest for a small trucking company. He remembers well the white-knuckle dangers of running narrow, rustic mountain roads, always trying to beat the clock. He also remembers that once he jumped out from behind the wheel, he still faced certain perils.

Inspecting the loads of logs could easily turn ugly. “I had gloves and a hard hat and a [reflective] vest and steel-toed shoes, but this is stuff I provided myself,” he says. “There wasn’t really a company policy on personal protection equipment (PPE).’’

Now a safety and loss consultant for the Associated General Contractors in Oregon, Parsons reviews the safety programs of many companies, including those with over-the-road trucking operations.

Parsons and other experts say there’s no perfect laundry list of protective equipment that suits every job. Instead, each carrier — from the single independent driver to the larger trucking company — should perform a hazard assessment to determine a list of necessary gear.

That means taking the time to think about the type of load being hauled, the loading and unloading tasks that may occur and the working environments the truck will enter. If you frequent construction sites, for instance, you’ll often need a hard hat or you might get turned away. You can usually grab a hat at the construction zone, but if you bring your own you’ll know it fits properly.

If you’re going to stop occasionally in a busy yard at night, stow a reflective vest in your truck.

Your choice of gloves will vary depending on the type of work you do. If you work with liquids, keep a waterproof pair of gloves handy. If you’re a flatbed driver and you’re frequently working with chains, a thick pair of leather gloves will help protect against pinching injuries. A good all-around choice is a cotton glove with rubber grips. You might want all three on board just in case. And remember to buy for proper fit; one size doesn’t fit all.

Owner-operators should reassess their safety equipment needs every time they take on a new contract with a company. Each carrier’s safety director can offer advice on what might be helpful.

Of course, good planning is the best protective gear a trucker can have.
“I warn people against using PPE as a first resort. It’s better to engineer out the hazard,” says Mike Belcher, a certified safety professional for the American Society of Safety Engineers.

For example, learning safe lifting techniques and knowing your physical limitations will help avoid injury in a way that a back belt can’t. “We look at back supports as a Band-Aid,’’ Belcher says. “We don’t want to give people a false sense of security. Here you’re wearing this belt and now you feel like Superman. If you’re trying to lift 100 pounds, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a back belt or not.’’

And then there are those accidents that happen in the course of normal movement. Slips, trips and falls are common but easily avoided by remembering to exit the rig backwards with a three-point stance or going for quality when purchasing shoes. A good work boot will have a gripping sole, a tough leather upper and may have a steel, plastic or fiberglass toe. Some truckers like the added protection of boots that cover the ankle. Tennis shoes and open-toed sandals are not work wear.

Most drivers respect the road and the rig, but driving isn’t the only time to think about safety. “You’re around a large piece of equipment with a lot of power, and there’s a lot of ways to get hurt around it. You have to develop good instincts and habits, and you will avert a lot of the problems that can happen around a tractor-trailer,’’ says Dennis Beal, vice president of physical assets for Federal Express Freight.  “It’s common sense, but I’ve found that common sense isn’t all that common.”

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