Voice of Experience: Inspection, Maintenance and Fall Protection Guidance for Bucket Truck Use
OSHA 29 CFR 1910.67 is the performance-based standard that covers requirements when using vehicle-mounted elevating and rotating work platforms, including the bucket trucks we use in the electric utility industry. There are many types of buckets, and the task to be performed will determine what type of bucket is required. This standard even covers noninsulated work platforms, sometimes referred to as JLGs, used in civil construction. For clarification, a mobile platform covered under 1910.68, “Manlifts,” is not covered under the 1910.67 standard. Mobile platforms are considered mobile scaffolding and require standard guardrail protection. Additional fall restraint normally is employed depending on the type of work and availability of fall protection attachment points.
Although today our industry is better trained than ever, it wasn’t so long ago that one of the most violated standards was the requirement to fly the booms every day before employee use. According to paragraph 1910.67(c)(2)(i), “Lift controls shall be tested each day prior to use to determine that such controls are in safe working condition.”
The fall protection requirements for utility bucket trucks are currently covered under 1910.269(g), “Personal protective equipment.” The users of bucket trucks now have options for fall protection, including a personal fall arrest system, fall prevention or a retractable lanyard. Fall protection equipment is much more user-friendly and lightweight than ever before.
In the remainder of this article, I want to focus on bucket truck inspections and maintenance required by OSHA, manufacturers and others. This information is critical but sometimes is not followed by employers or employees, which has led to a number of catastrophes.
Inspecting and Maintaining Trucks of All Ages
It is exciting for an employee to receive a new bucket truck. Even though it will almost certainly replace an existing bucket truck, there will be updated tools and equipment with operational limitations that employers need to address with employees before the new vehicle is placed in service. There also are ANSI and OSHA requirements for training on the vehicle. Just because a truck is brand new doesn’t exempt it from the inspection requirements of OSHA paragraph 1910.269(p)(1)(i), which states that the “critical safety components of mechanical elevating and rotating equipment shall receive a thorough visual inspection before use on each shift.” Additionally, the note to 1910.269(p)(1)(i) states the following: “Critical safety components of mechanical elevating and rotating equipment are components for which failure would result in free fall or free rotation of the boom.”
In addition to inspections, it is extremely important to maintain the boom and basket. Keeping the parts clean and polished is vital to maintaining dielectric qualities. Most bucket trucks have a dielectric liner that needs to be cleaned and tested at least once a year, per the ANSI A92.2 requirement.
Class A hot buckets used in bare-hand work have even more restrictive requirements and tests to maintain higher levels of protection of employees on ground. It is imperative to keep booms clean and dry, as well as to perform daily leakage tests to ensure the boom and basket condition allows contact with extra-high transmission voltages.
Working on ground around any vehicle in an elevated condition with the boom and basket within the minimum approach distance of uncovered, exposed conductors represents additional hazards. If the boom and basket are in good working order, clean and dielectrically tested as required, the hazards are greatly reduced even if contact is made with the boom or basket. The lower boom dielectric insert will protect workers on ground. If the truck is grounded to a system neutral, there are additional hazards to workers on ground. Equipment grounding is required by OSHA, but there are other options available to satisfy requirements. However, that is another topic for another day.
Inspection and Maintenance Failures
I’m familiar with one occasion when inspections failed to reveal missing bolts in a turntable, resulting in total boom failure when the remaining bolts failed under the strain of the elevated bucket and boom. A fatality occurred when the boom and bucket collapsed and struck the ground. It would be easy to be somewhat complacent and believe that a new truck doesn’t require a thorough inspection. OSHA 1910.269(p) doesn’t deal with the age of the equipment, only the fact that all of its vital parts – including mechanical and welds equipment – shall be inspected before use.
Another serious injury occurred when the lower boom lift cylinder of a 90-foot bucket truck failed, allowing the upper boom and basket to fall forward to the ground, injuring the employee in the basket when it struck ground. In this case, the employees using the bucket truck had reported a strange and unusual noise around the lower boom for several days or possibly weeks before the failure. It was discovered that the failure was hidden by the design of the equipment at the time, and that the detachment of the lift cylinder from the bracket was unseen. Because of the design, that was not even a maintenance checkpoint.
While today’s bucket trucks are durable and dependable, employees must follow manufacturer guidelines for maintenance and operation. Employees who improperly operate a truck or fail to recognize hazards in the work area often are the reasons why other employees get hurt.
From the 1990s until present day, there have been approximately 30 ejections per year from some type of aerial device that resulted in severe injuries or fatalities. Many of those hurt were line-clearing tree trimmers who wedged the upper or lower booms on tree limbs and were ejected when a limb broke or when they slipped past a limb. If the employees in these situations were not wearing proper fall protection, they usually ended up being fatally wounded. Occasionally a bucket truck was set up too close to a pole or work area, which required the improper angle of a lower boom. The low angle rotated out into traffic and the boom was struck by a passing truck.
A recent incident I am aware of involved a two-man bucket being completely broken off of a 95-foot bucket truck. The employees in the basket had attached a material-handling winch rope to a static wire on a transmission structure. The cable was then put in a strain lying across the bucket and in a down strain. The down strain weight was hard on the bucket. All the bolts holding the bucket cleanly broke off, allowing the bucket to drop out from under the employees. Both employees in the basket were using proper fall protection; they dropped as well, but their equipment stopped both of the employees in a free fall. Unfortunately, a lower control bucket rescue was not possible because the material-handling jib and winch rope were still attached to the static wire. The two employees remained suspended for nearly an hour until another bucket truck was summoned and used in their rescue. In this case, no employees sustained injuries because of their proper use of fall protection.
The aerial lift bucket truck is a wonderful tool that has allowed utility workers to perform work tasks that they previously were not able to accomplish. Transmission and distribution buckets are widely used by more than 200,000 utility workers every day without incident. When the operator’s manual is not followed or hazards are not recognized on the job site, incidents and accidents can occur.
Understanding the rules and knowing how and why to operate and care for aerial lifts are not only regulations – they are critical to the safety of the equipment’s operators and the employees working around the equipment.
About the Author: Danny Raines, CUSP, safety consultant, distribution and transmission, retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and opened Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC, providing compliance training, risk assessments and safety observation programs. He is also an affiliate instructor at Georgia Tech Research Center OSHA Outreach in Atlanta. For more information, visit www.electricutilitysafety.com.