February 8, 2019
By Jeff Stutt
A sign truck is a type of vehicle that helps workers install and move variable message signs (VMS) and other stand-alone signs. Similar to a bucket truck, these aerial lifts are used to access jobsites at varying heights. Given the risk of the person above-ground, it is crucial to ensure the safe use of this type of vehicle.
Indeed, the majority of injuries and/or fatalities are caused by tip-overs, collapses, electrocutions, and falls. Though the worker tasked with the job is fully aware of the risks, employers should make sure their workers are knowledgeable about this type of vehicle and ensure protective equipment is provided and used.
Sign trucks and other similar vehicles are among the most versatile and useful for many types of worksites. When used properly, they provide a safe and secure platform that enables workers to perform tasks in elevated areas without worry.
Aerial lifts are made from sturdy, stable materials, which allow workers to move freely and use both hands to complete a task. This is the reason why this type of truck is a staple for many sign companies.
Given the set of hazards this line of work presents, it is important to be aware of safe work practices. This article discusses the dangers associated with aerial lift truck operation, as well as the steps that should be followed to avoid an accident.
Elevated work can be dangerous, as performing tasks above-ground creates the risk of falling. That said, most sign installers eventually get comfortable working at these heights, and while this may be the right attitude for the job, it is important for them to remember a fall, even from a few feet, could result in serious injury.
Therefore, employees must be equipped with adequate fall protection gear, such as a harness with a lanyard and body belt. Establishing the fall distance is also crucial before performing a sign installation to ensure the right safety equipment is used. For example, if a worker’s protective gear is designed for a 4.5-m (15-ft) fall and he/she is only elevated 3 m (10 ft), the safety equipment would be rendered useless in this situation.
Further, when working at elevated heights, workers must always have both feet on the platform and ensure the floor is free of any trip hazard. Standing or sitting on the edge of the platform is a bad idea, as is placing a step tool or a ladder to extend one’s reach.
While inside the platform, workers should never try to climb down. Aerial lift trucks are designed to make this job easier; therefore, workers should be patient and wait until the bucket is fully lowered. Some aerial lifts can take a few minutes to fully lower; however, some other trucks can perform this task much faster. If workers need to visit multiple jobsites in a single day, it might be a good idea to reach out to the manufacturer to inquire about any available upgrades.
When the work platform or bucket is raised and the boom is extended, the truck’s centre of gravity will also change. Further, the worker and his/her tools add to the weight which can increase the chance of a tip-over. To avoid this from happening, operators should always park the truck on level ground comprising a sturdy base. Do not attempt to park the truck above gravel, sand, or soft earth.
If the aerial lift truck has outriggers, they should be properly positioned and fully extended before the work platform is raised. The truck should not be stabilized by parking it next to a building or another vehicle, and the brakes must be engaged.
Workers should be aware the load capacity of the bucket is limited and any tool they bring with them affects the capacity. Sign installation trucks should only be used as they are intended. They should not be used as cranes, whereby filling the work platform with objects to lift them up and transport them to another area, as this will increase the risk of the truck tipping over.
Further, operators should know whether or not the truck can be moved while its platform is raised and extended. If the manufacturer does not provide any specific information about this type of manoeuvre, it should not be performed.
Aerial lifts should not be operated during strong winds, as this can not only cause a truck to tip over, but also cause a worker to lose his/her balance while inside the bucket. Sign installers should check with the truck’s manufacturer to determine which wind speeds it can be operated in safely. When it comes to weather uncertainties in regards to performing elevated jobs, safety is priority. These jobs can wait until the weather improves.
Some aerial lifts have buckets that can protrude beyond the edges of the truck. If this is the case, the driver must be sure to check for any possible obstructions (e.g. buildings, vehicles, and pedestrians). It is essential to know the truck’s vertical clearance.
Also, stay clear from building overhangs and bridges, and be careful not to collide with low-level tree branches. If the truck is being driven into an area with any form of obstruction, the best strategy is to slow down. This is the only way one can minimize any damage in the event of an unintended collision.
Finally, when driving or operating the aerial lift, do not forget to keep a lookout for electric lines and other energized equipment, too. Most platform areas and buckets are insulated, but a worker could be injured by a live wire.
Prior to starting each shift, the truck operator should inspect the vehicle. Operators must also pay attention to the truck’s safety features, as well as check for any hydraulic liquid or oil leaks. When inspecting the truck’s exterior, it is important to check the tires in regards to air pressure as well as wear and tear. Finally, every button and lever on the truck should be clearly identified so operators know which ones can be touched and those that are off limits.
Before using the truck, the aerial lift and boom controls should be tested to make sure they are working properly. They should move freely without making any unusual sounds. All electrical and hydraulic lines should be checked and the steering and brakes should be tested. If the operator is unsure about what items to check, he/she should get assistance from an experienced driver or ask for assistance from the truck manufacturer.
One of the leading causes of accidents associated with aerial lift trucks and this line of work is poor operator knowledge and a lack of training. With this in mind, the following should be remembered:
As much as one may hate to do so, reading the operator’s manual will provide a lot of insight. By fully understanding the manual, a sign installer can maximize the potential of the installation equipment
by using it to its full capacity.
There are several types of aerial lift vehicles. Regardless of the type of truck(s) a company currently owns, employees should only operate the machinery once they are familiar with it. That said, if an employee is unfamiliar with the truck and all of its moving parts, he/she should not even turn the engine on.
Always conduct regular training sessions. Inform employees what purpose the truck serves and how it can be used. This is also the time to plan procedures in the event of an emergency.
Any job performed above-ground requires workers to wear a safety harness. This fall-arrest equipment has saved many lives in the sign installation field. That said, these harnesses must be inspected regularly to check for signs of damage such as wear and tear, chemical process, burn, frays, abrasions, holes, and cuts. Perform these inspections before each use and make sure it is working properly.
Harnesses have a life-expectancy, too. Therefore, it is important to check with the safety equipment manufacturer to determine how long it should last and what the proper method is to clean and maintain it.
A sign truck is a very useful and powerful tool when operated by someone who is properly trained. Conversely, it can be extremely dangerous in the hands of someone who has no idea how to operate the equipment. Every job has its risks; however, armed with the right knowledge and applying every safety measure possible will help to avoid any mishaps.
Finally, always shut the truck down after each use and never leave the keys in the ignition. This will keep unauthorized persons out and prevent them from causing damage to the workplace and/or the truck.
Jeff Stutt has more than 29 years of industry-related business experience. He has built and repaired cranes, and has driven trucks across North America. Stutt worked in new and used truck sales before transitioning into the boom truck industry more than 19 years ago. Along the way, he has helped numerous companies find the best solutions for delivering and unloading their products. He can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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