Fall Protection for RCVs

Although falls from the top of RCVs are not commonplace, the severity of injuries resulting from falling off the top of a truck or trailer is often very serious if not fatal. Front loaders, rear loaders with reeving equipment and transfer trailers all should be evaluated with fall protection in mind.

Shannon Harrop

Climbing onto a refuse collection vehicle is always a risky move, especially in rain, wind or snow. One misstep can cause a fall, leading to serious injury or death; yet, drivers and mechanics scramble onto their trucks regularly, whether to clear a cab shield, collect a dropped bag, tie down a tarp or perform maintenance.

Front loader vehicles are particularly susceptible to errant material collecting on top that requires drivers to climb to remove debris spilled from overloaded containers. If left unchecked and not removed, this fugitive material may become airborne when traveling to the disposal site and result in a load securement violation for the driver, or worse yet, a motor vehicle accident for an unsuspecting driver trailing behind.

Now, more than ever, drivers find it necessary to make sure the top of their trucks are clear before traveling to the disposal site. With recent CSA changes, authorities strictly enforce load securement with a maximum 10-point penalty (the same penalty for the driver as possession of drugs, DUI or reckless driving). DOT has identified these violations as most likely to predict future involvement in a crash and thus has assigned a value of 10.

Most drivers will tell you they are not comfortable climbing ladders and working at height without being equipped with proper personal fall protection equipment.

Potential Injuries

Although falls from the top of RCVs are not commonplace, the severity of injuries resulting from falling off the top of a truck or trailer is often very serious if not fatal. Front loaders, rear loaders with reeving equipment, and transfer trailers all require access to the top for routine activities and each should be evaluated with fall protection in mind.

Potential injuries while working at height on these vehicles can result from 1) climbing up or down the ladder, 2) transitioning on or off the ladder, 3) falling from the top of the truck body or trailer and 4) falling into the hopper. All four of these potential mishaps can be mitigated by using a personal fall protection system designed specifically for the application.

Fall Protection Systems

Generally speaking, there are three categories of fall protection systems—passive fall protection, fall restraint and fall arrest. Each of these systems has been applied to RCVs with varying degrees of success.

Passive Fall Protection does not require the wearing or use of personal fall protection equipment. (Examples may include safety nets, guardrail systems, or other means that protect an authorized person from a fall hazard.) A Fall Restraint System is a collection of equipment components that prevents an authorized person from reaching a fall hazard. A Fall Arrest System is a collection of equipment components that are configured to arrest a free fall.

Added height and weight and lack of portability limit Passive systems from effective application on mobile vehicles. Although collapsible handrail systems are available for some mobile applications such as tanker trailers, feasibility is limited on RCVs due to interference with hopper doors and lift arms, among other challenges.

Fall Arrest systems provide limited utility when applied to a vehicle, primarily due to the fact the anchor attachment point for an arresting lanyard must be affixed at foot level on the top of a truck. Most fall arrest systems have an anchor point overhead with adequate clear drop to decelerate and arrest a person falling. Trucks do not have enough height to allow proper deceleration. By definition a fall arrest system will allow a fall -including over the edge of the vehicle or into the hopper. Limitations in height on a truck allow the user to fall over the edge and strike the side of the vehicle.

Fall Restraint systems are designed to prevent falls from over the edge of the vehicle or into the hopper, yet allow complete hands-free access to the entire working surface of the top of the vehicle. A properly designed Fall Restraint system possesses a simple geometry that is inherently scalable to accommodate various heights of users.

One example of a Fall Restraint System is designed specifically for RCVs. It consists of two parallel restraint lines that are permanently mounted to the top of the vehicle body, a unique dual lanyard connects to the restraint lines, and a comfortable work positioning belt is worn by the operator. Once the operator reaches the top of the vehicle, he clips his belt into the system using a swivel hook on the lanyard. He is then able to walk the full length and width of the vehicle, while being prevented from going over the edge or into the hopper. This type of system can be specified on new vehicles or retrofitted to those already in the field. Its low profile also protects it from tree branches and other obstructions.

Climbing and Reaching

Climbing the ladder to reach the top of the vehicle creates the greatest exposure for a misstep. The transition point from the ladder to the working surface (and back down) is the most difficult point to navigate without assistance from handholds. A bolt-on telescopic hand rail extension allows the climber to remain in an erect posture while maintaining three points of contact all the way through the transition and back down. When not in use the device easily retracts out of the way next to the ladder.

Even though the nature of the job necessitates climbing at times, the best fall protection programs minimize the amount of climbing by doing as many tasks as possible with your feet firmly on the ground. Expandable reaching tools assist in many routine tasks and are foundational to effective fleet safety programs. These tools can be used to safely clean and maintain vehicles from ground level. They may include expandable reaching poles that extend 8 to 12 feet that can be quickly fitted with various attachments, including a brush and scraper that can be extended to sweep front loader cab shields and safely clean tailgate seals without walking under a raised tailgate. It can also be used on rear loaders to clean the packing/sweep blade from a safe distance. Another attachment is a multifunction hook used to position tarps and secure bungee cords without climbing onto the truck. Mounting brackets are available to conveniently store the tools on the vehicle. In addition, an industrial-strength, five-foot long reaching gripper can be used to reach loose or bagged trash in areas that are normally inaccessible, such as behind the packing blade, or in high temperature areas of the cab shield and between the cab and body where there is a risk of fire if combustible material collects.

Fleet safety managers and operations managers have realized the inherent risks of climbing on top of RCVs for many years. Until recently feasible solutions were not available for fall protection systems on these vehicles. The safety community within the solid waste and recycling industry has focused on delivering practical solutions for this long-known challenge to keep drivers and mechanics safe when working at height. The solutions that have been developed are evidence of a concerted effort to keep our employees safer on the route and in the shop.

Shannon Harrop is Operations Manager for Southwestern Sales Company (Rogers, AR). He can be reached at (800) 427-9368 or via e-mail at [email protected].

Sidebar Case Study

Fall Protection Systems Ensure Safe Access for Drivers

Veolia ES Solid Waste Inc. has introduced a fleet of 20 compressed natural gas (CNG) front loader trucks and eight CNG roll-off trucks to serve the Evansville, Ind., area.

The solid waste division of Chicago-based Veolia Environmental Services North America Corp. said in a news release it also is launching a CNG fueling station in Evansville.

The front loaders are equipped with the tarpARMOR® Fall Protection System including Bi-LINE Fall Restraint and safeMOUNT Ladder Assist. The fall protection equipment ensures safe access for drivers when cleaning the top of the trucks particularly around the CNG fuel tanks and valves. The mechanics use the system for routine maintenance and inspection of the CNG tanks. Both the front loaders and the roll-off trucks are equipped with Expandable Garbage Gear reaching tools to keep drivers on the ground and out of harm’s way as much as possible.

The trucks also come with automated collection systems designed to increase efficiency, protect driver health and safety, prolong truck life and reduce emissions. Veolia said the new trucks run about 15 percent quieter than trucks with diesel engines. “We’re very pleased to be the first waste hauler to bring CNG technology to Indiana,” said Jim Long, Veolia ES president and CEO. Veolia operates four CNG fueling stations and more than 100 CNG-powered refuse collection and support vehicles in North America.