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Navigating Safety: Overcoming Challenges for Telecommunications and Utility Drivers

May 21, 2024


Workers in the utility and telecommunications sectors confront a multitude of safety challenges in their daily tasks. From handling high-voltage equipment to braving extreme weather conditions and working at considerable heights, the risks are ever-present. These challenges are compounded for those working solo, as they must not only contend with the tasks at hand but also bear the responsibility of self-monitoring and maintaining vigilance.

The National Safety Council points out that slip, trip, and fall hazards are common, particularly in outdoor environments where terrain can be treacherous, further underscores the need for heightened awareness. While safety training is typically provided, certain hazards, especially those associated with vehicular operations, may warrant greater attention. Recognizing and addressing these challenges is essential to ensuring the well-being of utility and telecommunications workers in the field.

Understanding Safety Challenges for Telecommunications and Utility Drivers

Driving a company vehicle is just one of the duties of a telecommunications or utility worker; their primary task is the work they have to perform in the field. Depending on their role, the type of vehicles they drive can vary greatly; it might be a bucket truck or utility truck, or it could be a passenger van. While the rules of the road are the same for each driver, the way each vehicle handles and what it is capable of doing varies tremendously.

While heavy utility vehicles require a Class B commercial driver’s license (CDL), the majority of utility vehicles don’t require drivers to have a special license, so they may not always have the kind of training that they need to be safe behind the wheel.

Here’s a look at five common driving safety challenges faced by utility and telecommunications workers.

1. Turning Radius.

Because the back wheels of a vehicle follow a tighter path than the front wheels, larger vehicles require wide turns. The turning radius of a utility truck is very different from that of a standard vehicle, and drivers might misjudge the turn, or they may find themselves in a situation where traffic is tight, making it difficult to safely complete their turn.

2. Stopping Distance.

Compared to passenger vehicles, the stopping distance on trucks is much longer, and, if roads are wet or slippery, even more distance is required. Passenger cars on the road around the vehicle might make the situation worse by passing a truck and not leaving enough space for the larger vehicle to stop.

3. Blind Spots.

Trucks have much larger blind spots than passenger vehicles, due in large part to their size and the position of the driver high in the truck. A medium-duty truck can have a blind spot of as much as 160 feet behind them. Adding to the challenges is that all too often, drivers in passenger vehicles they share the road with don’t understand these blind spots and can create unsafe situations when passing or following trucks.

Blind spots create challenges off the road, too. Utility and telecommunications drivers may often have to park in driveways, alleys, or on the side of a road. This can present dangers when they are backing out of the driveway or alley, or when pulling back onto the road.

4. Close Quarter Maneuvering.

Utility and telecommunications workers often find themselves working in tight spaces. They may have to drive down narrow alleys that pose challenges not only from the sides but from low branches or low overhanging roofs. Close-quarter maneuvering is a skill that takes time to master but is essential for driver safety.

5. Backing and Parking.

Reverse driving crashes account for as much as 25% of commercial vehicle crashes. When driving in reverse, the driver’s visibility is limited and they’re often looking through a window behind them. This movement may require them to take one hand off the steering wheel and turn to see where they’re going, rather than facing ahead. Overall, backing creates one of the most hazardous driving situations because of the limited visibility involved. And, when it takes place in close quarters, the difficulty increases.

The danger of driving in reverse is reflected in the number of workers who are killed or injured each year as a result of backing crashes. For example, of 49 workers killed on worksites by dump trucks in 2017, 40 died in backing incidents.

Improving Driver Safety for Telecommunications and Utility Workers

While there’s nothing that safety managers can do to change the threats and unique challenges facing drivers in the telecommunications and utility industries, they can implement policies and provide training to better equip drivers to manage them. Giving drivers the tools to manage such situations can improve the safety record both of individual drivers and of the fleet as a whole.

When drivers implement The Smith5Keys® into their driving practices, it reduces the likelihood of a crash and creates a safer environment. Regardless of the size of the vehicle, these principles are applicable to help drivers develop better safety habits and learn how to maneuver through challenges that occur whether they’re on a major roadway, in a tight residential alley, on the side of the road, or in a parking lot.

Drivers also benefit from learning the proper way to use mirrors, being reminded to conduct visual scans and check their surroundings before leaving a work site and learning how to manage fatigue and adverse weather conditions. Refresher training, which reminds drivers of the importance of making safety behind the wheel a top priority every time they report for work, is also an effective way to reduce on-the-job incidents.

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