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American Towman Magazine Presents the Week in TowingDecember 05 - December 11, 2018

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Do You See the Light?

Flare 0 9d3b7By Randall C. Resch

Part of tow operator survival says that training isn't necessarily the key issue why towers are being killed, but how tow company owners and towers themselves approach survival and safety with blindfolded eyes. It wasn't until I was struck while outside my tow truck on a recovery during an El Nino rainstorm that I gained a mentality of tow operator survival. I guess pain sometimes is a powerful motivator.

In light of several tow operators killed on dark rural highways, many towmen feel that more should be done to eliminate them. However, adding streetlights to millions of miles of darkened stretches of America's highways will never happen.

Since data proves that a high-percentage of tow operator crashes and fatalities happen during night hours, brightly identifying the scene with flares make most sense and is very simple to deploy. What fascinates me is flares are hardly, if ever, used. Making the excuse that it takes too long to set up or they're too expensive is crap reasoning as far as I'm concerned. The investment in a case of flares is chump-change vs. losing a driver.

While I like the idea of having a blocker truck on-scene, look at the history of having either a blocker truck or other police vehicle on-scene. Somehow, distracted motorists continuously crash into the blocker truck or police vehicles.

Let these lessons lead us to a smarter way of defending our actions other than doing nothing at all.

You're not going to eliminate distracted or intoxicated drivers, but a proactive stance may save your company's hide somewhere down the road. If you look at the majority of tow operator fatalities, there are a gigantic number of reported fatalities where NO flares, cones or traffic controls were present. This isn't rocket science, but it requires a change in survival mentality.

At the very minimum, do something to illuminate your presence and STOP THINKING that the motoring public is going to move over for you. Flares, cones, ANSI III vests, blocker trucks, colored lightbars, police on-scene—they're nothing more than a false sense of security. Why should you trust your lives to nothing more than a placebo to distracted motorists?

I honestly don't understand a tow company owner that says, "It's gonna cost me more dollars to staff that tow truck with extra flares,"—but isn't that something owners should be doing in the first place to save lives? Owners, aren't you responsible to provide all necessary safety equipment to protect the wellbeing of your employees?

What safety-specific directions do you mandate that you're tow operators follow? Should you not be directing and leading your operators to smarter techniques and methods? I believe you owe your tow operators the ability to go home safely to their families every single night; not die in some unfortunate accident on some dark rural highway. Even going as far as wearing a $15 red, strobe LED light provides some additional level of safety beyond nothing at all.

I'm convinced that towers across America don't prepare themselves to take on a defensive state-of-mind, and they settle with a, "Ho-hum, it's never happened to me before," attitude. If you're not aware of what's going on in the towing and recovery industry, we ARE under fire from America's motorists ... and it's a battle that we're certainly losing.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, and is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame.

Environmental Exposure and OSHA

images deb64By Brian J Riker

Environmental hazards are all around us. What about extreme conditions while working outdoors?

Employee health is a paramount concern and your company's policies, training and daily expectations must reflect that. When I was younger and eager to "prove my worth" I would often work 36-plus hour shifts in my wrecker without a break. Had I known the toll that was taking on my body I surely would have done things differently back then.

As part of your workplace safety program it is your duty to provide your employees an environment free from recognized hazards. The first step to providing a safe work environment is to conduct a job hazard analysis. This can be as simple as a single-page document that identifies potential hazards associated with any given task and lists the required steps to reduce risk while performing this task.

A JHA for a towing operator would include environmental exposure concerns such as rain, snow, ice, outside air temperature, blowing dust, smoke and other inhalation hazards among others. It would also include traffic and other exposure concerns.

Make sure your team has appropriate schedules to reduce exposure times to extreme weather as well as someplace to seek shelter to warm up or cool down as necessary. Proper clothing also plays a huge role in worker safety. Keep in mind you may be required to provide some clothing at no cost to your employees as part of their personal protective equipment.

Once you have identified the types of environmental exposure your employees face, your next step is to determine the best ways to reduce or eliminate their exposure while still allowing them to complete their work. This may include requiring gloves, waterproof footwear and appropriate layers of clothing to act as insulation.

In the most extreme temperatures you may also need to schedule extra personnel to allow for breaks. This is very important in extreme heat or cold conditions to prevent heat stroke, hypothermia or frost bite. While heat stroke can occur when the human body reaches an internal temperature of just 104°F, hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperature drops below 95°F.

Frostbite can result with long exposure to temperatures only slightly below freezing. The risk of frostbite, as well as other cold-related illness, increases drastically below 5°F or with high wind speeds. Wind chill can be more damaging than purely cold temperatures since the wind cools the skin quicker. Exposure of bare skin to temperatures at or below 5°F for 30 minutes can result in severe frost bite, according to the Mayo Clinic website.

There are also cardiovascular concerns while working in extreme temperatures. This is true especially when they are a result of an unseasonal weather pattern and your body has not had time to acclimate to the changing temperatures.

When the human body is cold it naturally changes blood circulation patterns in an attempt to keep the core temperature within an acceptable range. Blood thickens and your heart works harder. Your body simply can't produce enough energy to keep warm. Physical exertion during cold weather events is a leading cause of heart attacks, especially among the overweight and smokers according to a fact sheet published by the American Heart Association.

As part of a company that had an employee suffer a cold weather-related heart attack, I can tell you from personal experience it is very expensive to deal with, and we were very fortunate that the employee survived.

Besides the Department of Labor and Worker Compensation Board investigation we had to deal with a customer relations nightmare. Since this happened at one of our customer's facilities, there was also multi-employer liability to deal with. That almost cost us our customer, because they faced liability along with us for the workplace injury.

Ultimately, we changed our policy to prevent a reoccurrence, the customer changed their snow removal policy and we helped the employee get back on their feet and into a new career since he can no longer drive. This could have had a much worse outcome, and for that I am eternally thankful.

Brian J Riker is a third generation towman and President of Fleet Compliance Solutions, LLC. He specializes in helping non-traditional fleets such as towing, repossession, and construction companies navigate the complex world of Federal and State transportation regulatory compliance. With 25 years of experience in the ditch as a tow operator Brian truly understands the unique needs and challenges faced by towing companies today. He can be reached at
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