Under the Covers

You know you've got to cover that waste. How you do it is the question. Most jurisdictions now require haulers to cover their roll-off boxes before carrying them to the disposal site.

Manually covering the box with a tarp and some rope is one option. A manual system is less expensive than a semi-automated or fully automated tarping system, and requires less maintenance because of the lack of automated components. However, a manual system takes longer for a driver to operate and might also lead to higher workman's compensation claims, since the driver has to exert more physical effort to get the container covered. A semi- or fully automated system allows drivers to cover and secure a load relatively quickly without climbing all over the box. And in today's refuse business, efficient operating procedures can add to the bottom line.

In both semi- and fully automated systems, the tarp is mounted on a roller behind the cab of the truck, like an old-fashioned window shade. The roller can be mounted in either a fixed configuration or on a hydraulic tower that raises and lowers in order to adjust to various roll-off box heights.

In a semi-automated system, the driver uses a rope to pull the tarp from the roller over the box, securing it at the rear and then tying the tarp down along the sides. In a fully automated system, a pair of hydraulically operated arms stretch the tarp over the load. The driver stands at the side of the truck to operate the tarp system, and once the arms are fully extended, the tower can be lowered to snug the tarp over the load.

Safety and efficiency are among the reasons that haulers often opt for a semi- or fully automated tarping system instead of a manual one. With manual tarps, the time that it takes to get the tarp spread over the roll-off box can add 15 to 30 minutes per load. In addition, there is a significant amount of danger involved with a driver walking back and forth over a load as they tarp it. There have been instances in which drivers have lost their footing and fell off the box, or suffered injuries from plunging into the load.

At Ashland, Mass.-based BP Trucking, the company provides full service collection, operating 55 trucks that service a 50-mile radius in the Boston area. The company has 17 roll-off trucks, all of which are equipped with fully automated Pioneer Cover-All systems. The company has been using the systems since the mid-1980s and handles six to eight bins a day, per truck.

Joseph DePaolo, president of the firm, says BP Trucking uses a model equipped with telescopic arms. “It's easy to stretch the tarp out over your boxes,” he says. “You either can bring it in for a 15-yarder or go out to cover a 30-yarder.”

The tarping system fits well into the company's pick-up procedure, DePaolo adds. The drivers “make sure the load's secure and then raise up the gantry on the tarping system,” he says. “From there, it's just a matter of a few seconds to cover the box. If the load's a little bulky, [the drivers] will use bungee cords to hold it down just to make sure that nothing falls out. If it's a flat load, the cover will hold itself down so we don't have to do any more than that.”

The cover systems work well in inclement weather, according to DePaolo. “The snow doesn't really gather on the tarping system because when it's in its cradle, the only time that snow will build up on it is driving down the road,” he says. “Weather's not really an issue.”

DePaolo has found that his tarps last a couple of months before they need to be replaced and that changing out tarps takes about an hour. If the trucks are transporting a lot of construction debris with nails, a tarp might tear more often. The firm also has experienced instances in which one of its drivers has picked up a roll-off box and, not realizing that something is sticking out of the box, bent one of the tarping systems' arms. Also, the systems' pistons may leak and need to be replaced, DePaolo adds.

Training drivers to operate the tarping system is fairly straight forward, according to DePaolo. “One of the experienced drivers will show them how to operate it,” he says. “They'll stay out in our parking lot first without anything on the truck, then they'll put a box on it and cover it and make sure they know how to do it.”

DePaolo estimates that the automated system saves 20 minutes per load when compared to manual tarping systems. “Plus there's a safety [component],” he says. “You don't have to worry about somebody falling off the container.”

At Carolina Waste Removal/Orange Recycling Services, Durham, N.C., the company's five roll-off trucks are equipped with fully automated tarping systems from O'Brian Tarping Systems. The company uses two different models on their trucks, says Robert Lafontant, supervisor of the firm's Rolloff Division.

In order to maximize the life of the tarps, Lafontant's drivers will inspect the load and make sure that the waste in the box is level. Eyelets located along both sides of the tarp allow for the use of tie-downs. “If we have a lot of newspaper, plastics or aluminum cans, you can strap the lip of the tarp to the side of the box to make sure that its well-secured and that nothing blows out and hits anybody on the highway,” he says.

The system works well in most weather conditions, although high winds can make the tarping operation a “hard task,” Lafontant says.

The company's focus on ensuring that no waste is protruding outside the box has resulted in a one-year life expectancy for the tarps. “We really do not want to mess with any boxes that are overloaded. That helps save the tarp from rubbing against whatever debris — wood, nails or whatever,” Lafontant says. “It just prolongs the life.”

Load checking also identifies any damage to the bins themselves that may cause the arms to hang up during the tarping process. Periodically, the top railing on the box will get broken and bent out of shape from the loading and being pushing around, Lafontant says. When that happens, the company's drivers sometimes don't catch it, and when the tarping system's arms begin extending over the box, they get caught on the protruding railing and can break.

Rutland, Vt.-based, Casella Waste Systems, Inc. has fully automated tarping systems on its 350 roll-off trucks. “My opinion is that they are much quicker and safer to use, while the disadvantage is they are more expensive,” says Gary Simmons, vice president of fleet management for the firm. “The benefits of the roll-off automatic tarps far outweigh the additional costs.”

Simmons urges haulers to look for tarping systems that are “simple to operate and repair” and that have the ability to cover a variety of container sizes. He also suggests that a hauling firm do everything it can to make sure that “the design is durable, user- and maintenance friendly, versatile and tough.” The manufacturer should have the “financial strength to continually fund ongoing research and development of new components and technologies so as to advance their products,” he says.

The manufacturer also should have an ample stock of replacement parts at reasonable prices that can be ordered by a secure Web site, fax or telephone, Simmons says. Being able to complete and ship the order the same day also is important.

Furthermore, haulers want to look for manufacturers that offer extended warranties and allow customers to file warranty claims and receive product support over a secure Web site. Finally, the company should be able to provide training on the proper preventative maintenance and repair procedures for a hauler's maintenance staff as well as on the proper operating procedures for the drivers to eliminate abuse and down time.

Lynn Merrill is a contributing writer based in San Bernardino, Calif.