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How Do You Achieve Safety Compliance?

floridasafety 5a2beBy Randall C. Resch

I'm always watching the actions of tow operators to see what they're doing that's acceptable and what they're doing wrong. I consider it a self-test in towing and recovery awareness and make it a learning lesson in arrival assessment to see how I would have responded to the same or similar situation.

On one such occasion near Louisville, Ky., a tower had his carrier tilted and readied to winch a vehicle onto the carrier. His customer was standing on the traffic-side talking on his phone. At the moment I drove past, I immediately observed a number of infractions to the way I felt this tow operator should have been conducting safe load techniques.

1. Tower was working the traffic-side controls
2. Customer not secured; he was also on the traffic-side
3. Tower was not wearing an ANSI III vest
4. Tower also was talking on his cellphone at same time loading operations were taking place

These are typical problems that are commonly demonstrated by America's towers. I believe they occur for three specific reasons.

One, the towman might be a one-owner company who makes his own rules as he goes along. Two, the towman is away from company management. Thirdly, there's no written company policy and procedure that prohibits these kinds of towman violations.

When I got back to my office, a quick internet search turned up a tow operator fatality with exactly the same details.

In February 2005, a 34-year-old Michigan tow operator was attempting to load a vehicle onto his carrier. As he stood at the traffic side controls, he allegedly was talking on his cellphone while in process of working the winch.

In that one moment of time, a DUI left the roadway and traveled into the right-hand shoulder first striking the disabled vehicle and continuing on to strike the tow operator.

The tower was pronounced dead at the scene.

Every company policy and procedure manual or employee handbook must specifically address actions by tow operators. Policy narratives must state the company's requirements as it applies to a driver and an employee work actions.

Beyond what's written in PPMs and employee handbooks, management should be constantly monitoring tow operator safety. Safety is a primary topic that starts at the top of company ownership and should be aggressively passed down through every employee and tow operator. In order to gain company-wide compliance, management must:

1. Ensure that the attitude of consistent and ongoing safety is solid and required
2. Write and deliver effective safety policy
3. Demand safety compliance of all employees
4. Hold all employees accountable
5. Initiate disciplinary actions to employees who fail to adhere to company policies and procedures

While it's known that not all employees can be entrusted to follow policy to the letter, gaining compliance is a function for managers and supervisors to instill in subordinates. But, if yours is a small company, you must take time to see what your drivers are doing when they're in the field.

Every tower, regardless of position must be aware of company policy and procedure. A big part of that is setting the tone through setting an example that exudes safety. If it's not clearly written in the company rules and guidelines, how can you expect compliance?

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. Randall was inducted into the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame in 2014.

Damaged Bikes: Drag and Slide?

Crashed motorcycle in Gdansk 98821By Randall C. Resch

If you're like me, you probably favor high-end cars, classic rides, tow trucks and motorcycles. If your favorite is a coveted rocket bike, street cruiser or full-dress touring bike, you'll understand the nature of this narrative.

Scenario: A motorcyclist is out-and-about riding the county's back roads and experiences an unfortunate crash. The rider goes off the pavement and is thrown from the cycle. Luckily the rider survives the crash, but is transported to a local hospital to mend a severe case of road rash and a bruised ego. Because the rider is transported to the hospital, an arriving highway patrol officer generates an accident report and the motorcycle is towed for safekeeping. A rotation tow company arrives, loads the cycle upright and transports the cycle to their tow yard.

A few days later, the cycle's owner limps into the tow yard to inspect his motorcycle. Typically, his attitude isn't the best; obviously he's mad at the tow company because of his own inability to safely operate his cycle at reasonable speeds and with due caution. Fast-forward to having the motorcycle towed out as the cyclist's insurance company arranges for the motorcycle to be delivered to a repair facility for evaluation, possible repair or total loss. The owner is seething mad because his cycle was lying in the tow yard on its side and in the dirt.

A competitor tow company arrives at the tow yard for second tow out, charges get paid and the tower prepares for load. The carrier's deck is lowered to the ground, and the operator simply snags a V-bridle to the cycle's forks and drag's it onto the carrier's deck.

So, here are three reasonable questions to ask regarding best practices:

1. When a cycle has considerable damage to its plastics, frame or front end, how many towers would load the already damaged motorcycle by dragging it lying down and onto the carrier's deck?

2. If a motorcycle is still on the pavement at a crash scene, should it be stood upright or left lying in the manner it was found?

3. Does it really even matter if the motorcycle appears to be marginally damaged or totaled?

Because the second company was loading the motorcycle, an employee of the initial tow company felt the second operator wasn't using best care practices and video-recorded the questionable process. However, if you're the second (tow out) operator and you see the cycle has considerable damage and it's found lying on its side in the tow yard, is it considered best practices to first stand the cycle upright prior to load? If the motorcycle was already damaged and it's lying on the ground of the storing tow company, who's to blame for additional damages beyond the crash itself?

While I see the value of taking video for liability purposes, the video I watched didn't clearly determine how the motorcycle was parked (stored) in the first place because the video didn't record an entire process.

What's the Problem?

Although a video seems to give the original tow company favor, one could question its validity if the storing tow company parked the broken cycle on its side due to crash damages. When it comes to protecting a company's interests, blame always is certain to shift from one side to the other in a "he said-she said" manner.

As a topic for your company's future safety meetings, a good point of focus might be: "When towers load motorcycles that can't roll/don't roll, is it OK to simply drag a damaged cycle (from a crash site) onto a carrier's deck?" Tow owners oftentimes cite potential slip and fall from a tilted deck, or the tower is trying to avoid a painful back blow-out by attempting to load an already damaged motorcycle. What's your best technique?

Loading casualty motorcycles found lying on their sides looks questionable, but so does transporting rolled-over cars upside down. We towers have jobs to do and sometimes on-scene considerations and safety dictates how tow and transport is conducted; nothing should be ruled out. We towers defend ourselves by saying there might be reasons for either technique, but, when vehicle owners or cycle riders see their treasured cars or cycles treated in that manner (damaged or not), hurt feelings and false claims are certain to occur.

While loading and transporting crashed motorcycles isn't overly challenging, if you're the owner of the damaged motorcycle, seeing a picture or viewing a video like the one explained suggests only one thing in the owner's mind—"Someone's gonna pay."
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WreckMaster President Justin Cruse said that the WreckMaster Convention will bring together towers from all over North America to provide a unique and beneficial opportunity to broaden knowledge.
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