According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the tow truck industry is among the most dangerous. The motor vehicle towing industry sees 43 deaths per 100,000 workers, compared to the national average of 2.8 per 100,000 workers.
As an occupation that spends a lot of time on the road and dealing with heavy machinery, tow truck driving has plenty of opportunities for hazards. Besides the potential for crashes while traveling to and from sites, drivers spend time on the sides of busy roads. An improperly lifted vehicle can roll backward, and debris from a damaged car can lead to cuts and other wounds. Following some tow truck driver safety tips can save lives and prevent injuries or dangerous mistakes.
Major OSHA Laws That Apply to Tow Truck Drivers
As a tow truck driver, fleet manager or towing company owner, you must follow many laws laid out by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
It’s essential to note that OSHA is not the only regulatory body truck drivers need to answer to. While traveling on public highways, a tow truck driver should follow the Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. You must have a commercial driver’s license, use turn signals and wear a seat belt. DOT also has authority over motor vehicle accidents. When a truck is loading and unloading disabled vehicles, OSHA has jurisdiction. If the truck only operates within state borders, OSHA has the authority.
Accident and Injury Reports
OSHA keeps a record of accidents involving tow trucks. These reports don’t include vehicular accidents, because they fall under DOT regulations. As a tow truck company owner or employer of drivers, you must report the appropriate incidents to OSHA.
To report these incidents, submit the OSHA 301 Incident Report for each event. Report any fatalities within eight hours, according to § 1904.39. File any nonfatal injuries within seven calendar days of learning the incident occurred. At the end of each calendar year, fill out the OSHA 300 Log and list each event reported.
OSHA has many requirements for tow truck drivers on rigging equipment for handling towed cars. You can study the complete list of regulations on the OSHA website. You must ensure that rigging equipment:
- Has permanently affixed markings that include the manufacturer’s recommended safe working load.
- Is inspected before use during each shift and removed from service if found to be defective.
- Is never used to lift more than its recommended safe working load.
General Safety Tips and Standards
Many of OSHA’s standards remove hazards to create a safer work environment for tow truck operators. Going beyond these regulations creates even more reliable outcomes. Here are some best practices, standards and tow truck safety tips to guide you.
- Employee training: When employees know what to do, fewer incidents occur. For employees to know and understand these procedures, they need adequate training. Do not assume previous work experience means a worker has been trained. Require a road test and a probationary period of 30 days for new drivers. Also, teach onboarding and refresher tow truck safety training courses using accredited programs.
- Equipment: It’s no secret preventive maintenance is better than reactive maintenance. It saves on repair costs and can stop deadly accidents. You should inspect your truck and the towing equipment often, and perform regular maintenance. Never attempt to tow a vehicle that weighs more than your towing equipment is rated for.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): High-visibility vests protect tow truck drivers on the scene. Reflective gear allows oncoming traffic to see and avoid technicians, even at night. While three classes are available, Class 3 vests have the most visibility. The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) requires emergency workers near a federal highway to wear green, yellow or orange fluorescent safety vests. Gloves can also be critical safety gear, especially if a disabled vehicle has been in an accident. Heavy-duty gloves protect drivers from broken glass or metal surrounding a crash site.
- Safety at the scene: Defensive driving can protect you on your way to and from sites. When you arrive at the scene of a disabled vehicle, use precautions to protect yourself. For example, when entering and exiting the truck, use running boards and handrails. Whenever possible, park so the tow truck creates a barrier between you and oncoming traffic. It’s even better if you can use remote controls to rig the disabled vehicle. If a driver does not need to exit the tow truck to hitch the disabled vehicle, there is a smaller chance of injury.
Recommended Preparations for Tow Truck Drivers
The more tow truck drivers can do before they arrive on the scene, and before they rig a vehicle, the better the outcomes will be. Here are some steps drivers can take to prepare for emergencies and eliminate potential hazards.
- Keep an extra supply of fuel onboard in approved containers, with separate tanks for gasoline and diesel.
- Carry emergency equipment on the truck. Some valuable items include wheel chocks, warning signal devices and a properly rated fire extinguisher.
- Before towing a disabled vehicle, check the transmission. The manufacturer of the disabled vehicle may have differing recommendations for towing front-wheel, rear-wheel and four-wheel drive transmissions.
- When arriving on the scene, use lighting around the pickup area. This precaution allows the driver to see and provides added visibility for oncoming traffic.
- Before towing a disabled vehicle, turn on the emergency flashers.
- Always leave at least three wraps of the cable on the winch.
- Ensure the wheel lifts extend far enough to have clearance when turning.
- Before driving with a vehicle in tow, double-check all cables and ensure locking pins are engaged.
Special Safety Statement for COVID-19
Tow truck companies are essential services since they need to be on the scene to rescue stranded vehicles. To preserve their safety and health, truck drivers must take extra precautions during the current coronavirus pandemic.
- PPE and handwashing: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends wearing a cloth face cover in public. They also recommend washing your hands often for at least 20 seconds. For a truck driver who may not have access to a sink while out on the road, hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol will work.
- Disinfect trucks: The CDC recommends cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces. For a truck driver, these include door handles, steering wheels, consoles and dashboards. Many roadside service companies are cleaning their vehicles several times a day. Consider wearing disposable gloves before servicing a disabled vehicle. Dispose of them safely after touching the car.
- Protect employees: The CDC has also issued guidelines for businesses to keep employees safe. You should separate sick employees and ask them to remain home. If any of your employees contract COVID-19, inform anyone who may have been exposed. If you or your employees must travel over state borders, take precautions and monitor health upon return.
- Practice social distancing: Many tow truck companies have stopped allowing passengers to ride in their tow trucks. Some have even asked customers not to be present when roadside service arrives. The CDC recommends staying at least 6 feet away from others.
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