The Cover Up

August 1, 2007

5 Min Read
The Cover Up

Bailey Webb

With most local governments now requiring that haulers cover their roll-off boxes during transport, choosing a tarping system is an important undertaking. The system that a waste firm chooses can have significant implications for operational efficiency and worker safety.

Tarping systems for roll-off trucks come in three basic designs: a manual system, in which the driver himself covers the box with a tarp and some rope; a semi-automated system, which features a hydraulic tower or gantry that lifts a furled tarp straight up from behind the cab and requires the driver to pull the tarp over the box with a cord; and a fully automated system, which consists of pivoting hydraulic arms that unroll the tarp like a window shade.

Semi- and fully automated systems cost more than manual systems and require higher maintenance costs because of their hydraulic components. However, automated systems require less of the driver's time to cover the box, thus allowing the driver to haul more loads in a day, which ultimately leads to greater profitability. Automated systems also require less effort from a driver and enable him or her to cover a load without climbing all over the box, which can lead to fewer workers' compensation claims.

“Everything's going toward automated tarpers if at all possible,” says Tim Mastropaolo, purchasing manager for Cincinnati-based Rumpke Consolidated Cos. “If the automated tarping system can be used, it should be used. The only time a manual tarp is used is if there's mechanical difficulty.”

Rumpke has a fleet of 1,263 hauling vehicles rolling across the Midwest and Kentucky, 274 of which require tarps. Sixty percent of the company's roll-off trucks feature fully automated tarping systems, Mastropaolo says.

Meanwhile, Manassas, Va.-based EnviroSolutions Inc. (ESI) operates 158 collection vehicles, 86 of which are roll-off trucks. All of the company's roll-off trucks are equipped with automated tarping systems; 97 percent are fully automated and 3 percent are semi-automated, Buchanan says.

“We feel automatic tarpers offer our employees a safe and efficient way to properly cover their loads,” says Mike Buchanan, director of maintenance at ESI. “We look for a top-quality brand of tarper that mounts cleanly to the hoist/chassis with a sufficient mounting structure. The tarp itself should roll around the rear roller to prevent snagging.”

Buchanan says making sure that an automated tarping system does not interfere with a driver's field of vision is a crucial consideration. “You don't want to impede the driver's view when looking in the side-view mirrors,” he says. “You also don't want a unit that may exceed legal width limits.”

“We like all plumbing/hoses and connections to be out of harm's way to avoid unnecessary contact with the load or surrounding areas,” Buchanan adds. “We avoid cheaper ‘hang-on’ units that don't last long and usually don't mount well. We typically stay away from units that have aluminum structures as these are more difficult and expensive for most shops to repair.”

Haulers say that automated systems offer important benefits in a tight labor market. In the current job market ,where it's difficult to recruit and retain qualified drivers, making the job less strenuous and safer is always a plus, Buchanan says.

As for finding a tarp supplier, both Buchanan and Mastropaolo suggest using a brand that's locally supported with service, parts, warranty and repair services. Rumpke uses regional accounts with one manufacturer in order to obtain purchasing discounts and consistency.

In recent years, some haulers have begun to use tarps made of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-coated nylon mesh and black knit polypropylene mesh. The materials allow for air flow through the tarp to prevent it from lifting or parasailing and provide “self-healing” qualities that prevent small tears from spreading.

Finally, many waste firms track and run reports on how many tarps a truck uses. A 5 foot by 7 foot compactor truck tarp may last a year, while other tarps used for heavier applications may not last a month. Either way, tracking their use also increases efficiency and helps manage costs, while torn tarps can still be used as temporary cover.

Extra Security

Rumpke and Houston-based Waste Management have teamed up to design a reaching pole that will help drivers fully secure a tarp, whether applied manually or by an automated system, to the roll-off box that it covers. The two companies introduced the concept to the National Solid Wastes Management Association and the Waste Equipment Technology Association at this year's WasteExpo.

The new device is a response to an injury that occurred when a driver tried to climb the side of a truck to reach and subsequently secure a tarp but fell off the truck, resulting in a nasty concussion. The reaching pole, a telescoping pole that can stretch from six feet to 12 feet and has a small hook at the end, enables drivers to secure a tarp's sides without climbing onto the truck. Drivers use the hook to grab the side of the tarp, pull it down and secure the tarp with bungee chords.

Waste Management and Rumpke began working on the pole about a year ago, though some of the companies' drivers had already developed a reaching pole on their own, says Jose Flores, Waste Management safety operations manager.

The two industry giants began the search for a manufacturer that could produce the reaching pole in significant volumes and eventually found a match in a Wooster, Ohio, vendor. Waste Management and Rumpke hope to have the final specifications for the reaching pole developed this summer and begin production later this year.

The reaching pole will address a couple of other issues, too. Ideally, the device will not conduct electricity, but, regardless, many companies train drivers and crews to never use a reaching pole or similar device near electrically conductive wires or in a dark setting. “We felt we could address this potential hazard through proper training,” Flores says.

Additionally, the reaching pole will have a brush attachment so that drivers and crews can clean hauling boxes' seals after dumping a load.

“We've taken one issue and solved three different problems,” says Larry Stone, director of safety at Rumpke Consolidated Cos. “It's one of the first times in solid waste history that two competing companies have worked hand-in-hand to improve safety in our industry.”

Bailey Webb is a contributing writer based in Atlanta.

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