“I have not met anyone in the business who does not want more safety.”
Those are the words of Bob Dray, vice president for sales and marketing for Custom Truck One Source, during a recent interview to discuss aerial-lift safety and the lanyard warning system his company recently adopted.
From the advent of bucket trucks to compact tracked and wheeled lifts, aerial devices have been huge contributors to productivity and safety in the tree care industry. But with this technology came other risks, such as falling or being ejected from the lift. New solutions designed to reduce those risks and make “life in the bucket” as safe as possible are the subject of this article.
Fall protection in the form of harnesses and lanyards that attach the operator to the boom or bucket have been available for years, but operators, being human, can “forget” to latch in. Even the best and most safety-conscious operators can make a potentially disastrous mistake, for instance, if they get focused on a complex operation, have been working long hours – such as during storm cleanup – or are simply in a hurry to make that one last cut. Then, frankly, there are those, albeit just a few, who choose not to latch in or try to find a way to defeat a safety system. That’s changing.
After years of research and development, three devices now are or soon will be on the market that are designed to warn an aerial-lift operator in no uncertain terms not to operate the lift without being properly secured. Also, these devices have the capability to record and report lock-ins, lift and descend cycles, and time in the air. The purpose of the latter is not so much to “snitch” on an errant operator, suppliers say, as to provide owners and managers with data to support corrective measures.
Mark Thomas, chief business officer for Recon Dynamics, a TCIA Associate Member company headquartered in Bothell, Washington, explains how his company’s product, the Aerial Harness Training System, is both a warning system for the operator and a reporting tool for the company. “We can track and give the company owner statistics on the number and duration of boom-ups,” he says, adding that on site, “there is an alarm that sounds a 125-decibel horn if the operator gets in the bucket and moves the boom without clipping in.
“We all recognize we have busy lives,” Thomas adds, “and tree care is demanding, so we prefer to term our approach a training system, not a warning system.” The difference in objectives is subtle, yet one with a long vision. “The objective is to train the operator not to have the horn go off .”
As for the loudness of the horn, he explains, “Normally, when working on a crew and the horn goes off, others in the crew may provide a little guff, but the training objective is to get in and latch in and not have the horn go off .”
Moreover, he adds, “Say you’ve had a busy, tiring day, maybe working 10 hours to clean up after a storm. The crew is focused on the job, but at 125 decibels, even with the noise of the chain saws and chippers and diesel engines, the operator and supervisor can hear the warning that someone is not clipped in properly and take corrective action.”
Thomas makes it a point to note that the warning and recording device will work in virtually any lift – not only bucket lifts but also compact and mini tracked and wheeled lifts. “In fact, any lift unit can be retrofitted, and our system will work with virtually any system,” Thomas stresses.
It is important to note that “this is not a lockout system,” he says. “It does not integrate with any boom mechanism.” Rather, Thomas stresses, it monitors the system, alerting the operator. Sometimes the training takes only one time. One of the reasons for not having a lockout system, as noted by a number of manufacturers, is that the more complex a lift system becomes, the greater the chances are of a failure, and they do not want the lanyard warning system to interfere with lift operation.
The price for the Recon Dynamics unit is $1,800 for the stand-alone warning/training setup. There is, Thomas adds, an available upgrade, a monitoring and reporting system that can cost $15 to $25 a month per vehicle, depending on the reporting frequency desires of the lift owner. For example, Thomas says, “We can download an email report every Friday, or we offer telematics (long-distance transmission of computer information) to include where your bucket trucks are. Once you’re logged in, you can get activity reporting (to include lanyard use) daily, weekly or monthly per truck or on a fleet basis.”
With respect to safety lanyards, reporting data will “indicate if someone does not clip in or clips in late,” Thomas states. There are some valuable subtleties, too, which an owner or manager may actually need to know. Specifically, “There are a few instances when reporting ‘no-clip’ is OK, for example, the first thing in the morning during the daily checklist when you preflight the boom with no one in the bucket.
That’s an OSHA requirement.” By way of explanation, this kind of data is important because it supports the daily equipment log, Thomas says. “Another example of a good no-clip,” Thomas says, “is when you have to lift the boom with no one in the bucket for a chip dump.”
Additionally, he notes, there are cases when a chip truck is not loaded properly and can be unstable if the boom is deployed on the overly weighted side. Part of the system, Thomas says, includes a built-in level truck alarm. “If the unit goes out of trim by 5 degrees or more, the warning horn sounds, but differently from a no-clip,” Thomas explains.
That gives the crew time to redistribute the chip load and reset outriggers to stay within safe working parameters. While ordering the basic warning system is a one-time cost, Thomas maintains that with regard to the monthly monitoring and reporting options, “There is not one of our customers who has not signed up for the reporting.”
A very early entry into the lanyard-safety world was Paul Baillargeon, president of Suncook International. For him, the mission was personal, having been injured in a 29-foot fall from an aerial lift in 2001. After more than a decade of development, Baillargeon sold his concept to OEM Data Controls, which specializes in reporting electronics for rugged environments and is in the pilot and rollout stage of this advancing technology.
“Whenever I hear of an aerial-lift operator who has fallen from a lift, it gets to me,” Baillargeon states. Although he has divested himself of his lanyard warning system, Baillargeon maintains he will continue to stay involved in the product, now branded the Fasten Tracker Lanyard Attachment Monitoring System. “If I can help, I will continue to do so,” Baillargeon says.
“The Fasten Tracker will monitor the date and time of each attachment and detachment,” he explains. “Because we know the normal behavior patterns and usage of a lift, the system will know if an operator goes out of that pattern, which may be an indicator of someone trying to defeat the system, for example, by jamming in a screwdriver for the whole day.” Baillargeon explains that a lift has predictable events, up and down cycles and idle times, so if the system reports that the lanyard was attached all day, that would trigger an anomaly and follow-up investigation of the lift’s operation and might result in corrective action.
One of the hidden advantages, Baillargeon maintains, is the potential for insurance discounts, especially in fleet use, because adherence to safety procedures, in this case, lanyard clip-in can be documented. OEM Data Delivery is the company now bearing the torch lit by Baillargeon. Its president, Sam Simons, explains that the company is a division of OEM Controls, a major player in the electro-hydraulic controls market.
The parent company is involved with joystick controllers, ergonomically controlled multi-grip handles, electronic-valve drive boards, microprocessor-based logic controllers and integrated panel systems. Capabilities and features of the data-delivery unit of the Fasten Tracker includes custom and durable tracking devices, concealed and reliable data capture products and seamless data delivery systems.
“We started with data delivery 15 years ago as part of off -highway equipment management (hence the name OEM Data Delivery).” Given that, Simons notes, “We know how to make rugged electronics,” adding that, as the company continued to develop telematics and integrate Bluetooth data devices, “We jumped on the technology, and it has taken nearly two years to develop, based on Paul’s original concept. “With the technology being rugged and with the added ability to get smaller yet more robust, we have two versions,” Simons explains, one each for insulated and uninsulated trucks.
He agrees that “the technology is still in its infancy. Ours has been in beta testing for a year, and after several iterations, it is ready to go.”
To be clear, Simons stresses, the system is a reminder for operators and managers – a training device to remind everyone to get the clip-in process right every time. “We know, for example, that bucket operators are highly skilled in their own business. We just need to remind them to attach.”
If the audible alarm is not enough, Simons says the warning can be broadcast via Bluetooth to the operator’s cell phone to include sound and vibration.
“If there is a violation and three seconds later it is eliminated, we know the operator clipped in and the Fasten Tracker did its job,” Simons concludes.
In aerial work, it’s good to have a backup, a pal, if you will, and that’s the name of the lanyard warning system from Terex, the Positive Attachment Lanyard (PAL) device.
Joe Caywood, director of marketing and product management at Terex Utilities, also a TCIA Associate Member company, says, “We identified that we needed to add a safe-behavior system to our equipment and to add this kind of warning system.
Thinking in terms of the user, he says, “Everything we did focused on feasibility, reliability, and uptime. “Even the best lineman can forget to latch
the lanyard,” Caywood says of bucketborne utility workers.
“The PAL system is designed to influence the right behaviors. “We determined early on that we do not want an interlock or lock-out system. We needed to keep it simple, like a car seat belt,” he explains. “Something not expensive but effective.
“We moved forward with an initial phase, a pilot program for the electric utility industry, and have expanded to tree workers, where we see the same opportunity for added safety,” Caywood says, “such as on our models XTPro and LT40 product lines.
“The PAL system is available now, and we are looking for partners (in tree care) who want to run a pilot program to address operator-safety behaviors,” he offers.
Caywood says the PAL differentiates itself in the industry with simplicity and reliability by latching in with a lanyard versus proximity sensors. “We did think about how an operator might try to defeat the system.
We can capture and provide data that can reveal an attempt to defeat the PAL system, for example, by cutting off a lanyard clip and attaching it to the unit. If, for example, the data shows the lanyard was clipped in for an eight-hour shift, you can compare that with typical lift duty cycles of about 25% of a day and quickly identify a system-defeating behavior,” he explains.
Caywood says there was a typical case in a pilot program where a company’s best and most-trusted line worker was caught forgetting to latch in during a very busy period. “It worked! The PAL reminded him,”
Caywood remarks. According to Caywood, the Terex PAL system uses a standard attachment retrofittable to older machines. The activation sensors are operated by a battery (a simple lithium AA battery) that is designed to be changed out at the time of the lift’s annual inspection.
The setup senses a successful latch when controls are used to operate the lift and will trigger a signal if the boom is in motion without the lanyard correctly attached. “Recorded data also is available to customers if they select that option,” Caywood says, and the capability can be added to a lift’s existing telematics or added separately. Similar to other lanyard-safety device manufacturers, Terex is actively working with its customers in pilot programs designed to introduce the capability across all lift applications. In the case of Terex, a major pilot program is underway at one of its industry partners, Custom Truck One Source, a TCIA Associate Member company.
Building on his safety statement at the start of this article, Custom Truck’s Bob Dray maintains that, “Anything we can do in the industry to build toward safety always makes for a better situation, and we continue to be pushed by our customers to make our units better and safer.” He notes that, while most lift units from Custom Truck One Source are of the bucket/forestry type, the company does off er a tracked bucket lift for which the Terex PAL system also is available. “Yes, we have been in a pilot program with Terex and are helping to bring the concept to the tree care industry,” Dray notes, “most recently reinforced at TCI EXPO in November.
“Currently, the PAL system is an option, and as more units are ordered, we expect to be able to lower the cost, which should further help customers make the decision to purchase.” Dray says that currently, depending on the data-reporting level of the PAL system ordered, costs range from $1,200 to $1,500 per lift.
“So far, response from customers generally has been positive,” he reports. “In our business, great strides are being made in tree care productivity, and with that, greater strides in safety.” Regarding an industrywide acceptance of lanyard-attachment systems, Dray concludes that in time, “it will happen.”