Low Bridge

Technology may be key to preventing overhead-object accidents.

The Mention of overhead-object accidents in the waste industry may bring to mind a front loader with its forks in the air, ripping down telephone wires or power lines. In reality, most severe overhead object accidents occur when roll-off truck operators leave their hoists raised. While some of the overhead-object accidents involving roll-off trucks are relatively minor (hitting wires, awnings, etc.), incidents in which vehicles strike bridges or overpasses can be catastrophic.

Trucks have been totaled, hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages have occurred, and drivers have died in accidents because roll-off vehicles hit overhead objects with their hoists. In 2007, two Ohio roll-off truck drivers died when their trucks hit bridges because their hoists were raised.

The obvious question is why are roll-off trucks entering the roadway with their hoists still raised? Clearly, much of the blame is rightfully placed with drivers, as it is their responsibility to lower hoists before driving off. Further, most roll-off trucks have warning lights and buzzers to remind drivers that their hoists are still up. However, roll-off trucks equipped with warning lights or buzzers still are regularly involved in overhead-object accidents.

Obviously, warning lights and buzzers do not eliminate overhead-object accidents. While these lights and buzzers are an important safety feature that should be included in all roll-off trucks, they only are a reminder to drivers — a reminder that is easily overlooked as a just another distraction in a noisy truck. Ultimately, drivers must remember to lower hoists.

Truck and roll-off equipment manufacturers should develop an engineering solution to this problem. With today's heavily computerized modern engines and transmissions, technology surely exists to prevent roll-off trucks from traveling down the road with their hoists raised. A simple microprocessor equipped with inputs from the contact switch (indicating that the hoist is up) and from the vehicle (indicating engine speed) should be considered. Such a system could limit vehicles to 5 mph if hoists are raised, or kill truck engines if the vehicles go over 5 mph with their hoists up. Because trucks do not need to travel more than 5 mph to handle necessary tasks, these solutions should not interfere with normal roll-off operations.

The “three E's” of safety management are education, enforcement and engineering. While educating drivers of the dangers of leaving hoists raised is certainly important, the potential for human error still exists. Since roll-off trucks travel far flung routes, directly observing and enforcing safety rules can only be addressed periodically. Thus, to save lives and eliminate millions of dollars worth of property damage each year, an engineering solution is the only reliable method for preventing overhead-object accidents.
Bruce A. Hooker
R.F. Mattei & Associates of CA Insurance Services
Sacramento, Calif.