Workers in the fields of utility and telecommunications face a higher-than-average number of safety challenges on the job. On any given day, they’re working with high-voltage equipment, exposed to extreme weather conditions and may have to perform their jobs from great heights.
If they’re working alone, the challenges are even greater; they also have to manage the stress of checking their own work and not having a partner to help. That can be particularly difficult on days when an employee is tired or not feeling well.
The National Safety Council points out that slip, trip and fall hazards are common around such worksites, and working outdoors, where ground can be wet and uneven, only increases the likelihood of a workplace incident.
While safety managers usually provide training and information about on-the-job dangers, some of the other dangers commonly experienced by utility and telecommunications workers may not always get the attention they deserve. And some of the greatest challenges these workers face will happen as a result of the vehicles they’re driving.
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 turning 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.