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Voice of Experience: The Safe and Proper Use of Bucket Trucks

Many industries use bucket trucks to help workers accomplish tasks. In the electric utility industry, we use bucket trucks – often referred to as insulated aerial devices – to help maintain and improve productivity and safety. The trucks are the most reliable when all of the manufacturer’s recommendations are followed and routine maintenance is performed. Manufacturing performance standards for insulated aerial devices can be found at ANSI A92.2 and OSHA 29 CFR 1910.67.

I have performed fields audits for many companies over the years, and I want to share some facts about operational safety and proper use of insulated aerial devices. It’s critical for every company to have documentation that sets expectations for all employees about the safe and proper use of bucket trucks.

Travel Practices
First, let’s look at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s requirements to drive a bucket truck. Most of the trucks, if not all of them, require the operator to possess a commercial driver’s license. Operators also must be properly trained before getting behind the wheel.

Drivers of insulated aerial bucket equipment must be constantly alert to the fact that the vehicle has exposed equipment above the elevation of the truck cab, and they must make certain that safe roadway clearances are available. Any aerial device that contacts a fixed object while the truck is moving should be thoroughly inspected by fleet personnel prior to being used again as an aerial lift. The aerial bucket should be in the stored position anytime the vehicle is in motion.

The material-handling jib can be retained in the jib bracket and stored in the retracted and horizontal position (against the jib stop) prior to travel. If the jib is removed from the bracket to be stored, it must be stored in a manner that will not compromise the dielectric properties or structural integrity of the jib. A tool bag should be made available for this purpose.

In general, riding in the bucket is not permitted by aerial device manufacturers. However, it is permissible for the bucket to be occupied during certain mobile operations on the work site provided that the following occurs:

  • The aerial bucket is returned to the stored position.
  • Repositioning is allowed only for short distances when it is required to accomplish the work.
  • The mobile operation can be accomplished safely while observing overhead structures, obstructions, adverse ground surface conditions and congestion, including public traffic.

Tools should be removed from the bucket during highway travel unless they are properly secured. Proper storage of the tools prevents damage to the bucket and stops them from potentially falling out of the bucket and creating a hazard to pedestrians and the driving public. 

Before Work Begins
Once on the job site, and before raising the boom and bucket, inspect all critical lifting components and properly set up for the work to be done. Before an employee enters the work platform or bucket, a test of the lower bucket controls is required to ensure they are operational in case an emergency rescue is needed.

Depending on the size of the bucket truck, select a proper distance from the structure to assure the lower boom is in an elevated position of 45 degrees or greater to ground. When working distribution on roads and highways, the lower boom should be in the clear of traffic.

Traffic control should be set up according to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to channel traffic away from the work area. Improper vehicle setups have caused lower booms to be struck by trucks, causing serious damage and even employee fatalities.

Upon arriving at the work area, the truck shall be legally parked, with the parking brake applied, until the appropriate vehicle and pedestrian warning signs, lights and barricades have been set up. All vehicles should be parked on the same side to avoid cluttering up the street.

The operator is responsible for all operations required to set up the vehicle, place the bucket in its operating position, use the bucket and restore it to the traveling position. A warmup period for the hydraulic system is needed at the beginning of each day’s work.

Careful consideration must be given to the location of overhead conductors and the surrounding conditions before the truck is moved into the work position. Every effort should be made to place the truck so that all work areas at that location may be reached by the bucket without additional movement of the truck.

Rotating or flashing beacon strobe lights shall be used on a vehicle parked on the right-of-way at the job site. Four-way hazard warning lights must be immediately utilized when the truck is stopped on the travel portion or shoulder of a roadway.

Footing for the truck wheels and outriggers is required to be examined carefully, and extra caution shall be exercised if there is snow, ice, mud, soft ground or unusual conditions, such as blind ditches, manholes, culverts, septic tanks and wells.

Chocks should be used to ensure stability of the truck when it’s on uneven surfaces.

Before lowering the outriggers, the operator must visually ascertain that no one is in a position where an injury could occur. Alarm systems used to alert workers that outriggers are being lowered shall be in good working order.

On uneven ground, outriggers must be down and firmly placed on pads. Additional cribbing may be required to ensure stability of the truck. The operator must then check to be sure that the outriggers or stabilizers are indeed in the down position, the outrigger control valves are in the closed position and the truck’s parking brake is set. The truck should sit approximately level when viewed from the rear. 

Note: When working on an incline, trucks not equipped with outriggers should be headed up or down the inclined surface. Trucks not equipped with outriggers have more stability when the bucket is operated behind the rear axle.

Once proper setup has been achieved, a job plan and briefing should be conducted to plan the work and materials to be used. A handline should be taken aloft to send material up and down from the pole to ground personnel. Weight limits should always be followed closely to ensure that the rated working load of the bucket is not exceeded. Most single buckets have at least a 300-pound weight limit for the employee and tools.

Raising the Bucket
The operator shall note the location of all obstructions so that the bucket or boom will not contact them when it is raised, lowered or rotated. Contacting fixed objects and continuing to apply pressure from the bucket controls can cause serious damage to the equipment and must be avoided. The operator shall always face the direction in which the bucket is moving. When using a material-handling aerial bucket, the rope or winch line must be clean, dry and made of synthetic material.

When the bucket is in an elevated working position, wire hooks and other metallic attachments shall not be placed on the outside of work platforms or buckets. Adequate clearance must be maintained so that protruding tools do not contact conductors, limbs or other obstructions. The operator shall not stand on top of the bucket, on planks placed across the top of the bucket, or on stools or boxes placed in the bucket. In addition, the operator must not belt to an adjacent pole, structure or piece of equipment while performing work from the bucket.

It should be a tightly controlled and limited practice, but OSHA does not prohibit qualified climbers from transferring from a bucket to a structure. In fact, OSHA has published interpretations on how to do so safely (see OSHA referenced standard (not adopted) IEEE 1307, “IEEE Standard for Fall Protection for Electric Utility Transmission and Distribution on Poles and Structures,” permits a transfer under certain conditions, and only when two workers are present and one stays in the bucket.  

Bucket trucks should not be placed into the minimum approach distances of energized conductors or equipment without first installing properly rated cover-up on all exposed energized conductors and equipment.

The aerial manufacturer’s operating manual shall be followed when using the material-handling jib to move equipment or conductors. Certain aerial bucket equipment has load-handling capabilities. These units may be used to handle boom loads as indicated on the capacity charts or by the manufacturer’s specifications. Unknown loads shall not be handled by material-handling equipment. Instead, other rigging practices must be used. Overloading of material-handling jibs is possible and can result in equipment damage or injury to personnel.

The properties of fiberglass are maximized when a clean, glossy surface is evident on the fiberglass booms and insert. It is the responsibility of the immediate supervisor to see that the following cleaning procedures are carried out. Note that this information on inspection and cleaning applies to both extendable and non-extendable fiberglass booms.

The operator shall keep the fiberglass booms, insert and bucket clean and polished. This is best accomplished by preventing their contact with conductors, poles, trees and any other object that can contaminate the fiberglass surface. However, since contamination is inevitable, fiberglass booms and inserts shall be inspected weekly for dirty surface areas and/or non-glossy areas. These areas shall be cleaned and polished during the weekly inspection. Only approved boom cleaner and wax should be used.

Once the fiberglass boom, jib and insert have been cleaned and polished, the weekly maintenance should only be spot cleaning and polishing to restore the overall glossy appearance. Polish may be applied during humid conditions. Booms and buckets shall be tested against ANSI standards at a minimum of once per year.

In closing, aerial bucket trucks are powerful pieces of equipment that help us perform our work, but we must ensure they are set up, used and maintained according to the appropriate standards.

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 also is an affiliate instructor at Georgia Tech Research Center OSHA Outreach in Atlanta.

Voice of Experience

Danny Raines, CUSP

Danny Raines, CUSP, is an author, an OSHA-authorized trainer, and a transmission and distribution safety consultant who retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and now operates Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC.