Fifth Wheel Hooks

1 06 2008

Because of its location, drivers who manually pull the fifth-wheel release without the aid of an assist-devise must stoop or squat and reach into the narrow area between the tractor frame and the trailer apron. While in that physically-awkward position, the driver must pull hard enough to release the king-pin. That can be a recipe for a shoulder, neck or back injury. Because it is difficult (if not impossible) to get solid footing and a secure stance while in that awkward position, a driver who pulls the fifth-wheel release by-hand increases the potential to fall backwards when a stubborn fifth-wheel finally gives.

The previous issue of Beyond the Cab suggested that air-operated fifth-wheel unlocking systems or newly-designed fifth-wheels that require less pulling force than standard fifth-wheel models may be a big part of the solution. Certainly these engineering advances should be strongly considered when defining specs for new trucks. However, the reality is that retrofitting existing trucks or purchasing new trucks with these devises represents a long-term solution. Implementing that long-term solution throughout the fleet may take 5 years or more.

Short-term solutions are needed to fill the gap. The good news is that there are a number of controls that can be employed to minimize drivers’ exposure to injuries associated with pulling the fifth-wheel release. The better news is that, as the safety director, you don’t have to pick just one. As a matter of fact, you are encouraged to use them all. In this issue of Beyond the Cab, we will take a more in-depth look at fifth-wheel hooks.

Fifth-wheel hooks are very likely the most commonly-considered control to address the hazard of pulling a semi’s fifth-wheel release. These are generally little more than a steel rod with a small hook on one end and a handle on the other end. In fact, many drivers fabricate their own out of rebar or stainless steel. By placing the hook onto the semi’s fifth-wheel release handle, a driver can stand erect while pulling, as opposed to the awkward posture described above.

Although the design concept is simple, not all fifth-wheel hooks are created equal. Whether a fifth-wheel hook is commercially-purchased or fabricated for personal use, drivers should be made aware that fifth-wheel hooks made of soft metal (such as aluminum) do not likely have the structural integrity for the job. In using an aluminum fifth-wheel hook, a number of drivers have fallen backwards onto the ground or thrust their elbow against an adjacent trailer because the hook portion of the devise straightened-out under the force on being used to pull a stubborn fifth-wheel release.

In addition to avoiding those fabricated from soft metals, before purchasing fifth-wheel hooks, determine the proper length by measuring the distance from the fifth-wheel release handle to the edge of the trailer. If the fifth-wheel hook is too short, a portion of the driver’s arm will still be under the trailer and he will not be able to stand erect when pulling. If the fifth-wheel hook is too long the driver may not have enough room to use it on those occasions in which there is limited space beside the trailer.

The specific configuration of the hook (the portion placed onto fifth-wheel release handle) is yet another consideration. Because some fifth-wheel releases have a latch mechanism, fifth-wheel hooks can be purchased with catches (Click here to see example). Under certain circumstances, hooks with a moderate bend are warranted, as opposed to those with a “J-shaped” hook on the end. Because hooks can get dirty from reaching under trailers, many drivers do not like to place the hooks back inside their cab. Instead, they store it behind their cab by dropping it through one of the holes in the catwalk (away from the driveshaft). This not only keeps a potentially dirty tool out of the cab, but makes it convenient to use every time. However, if this is how the hook is to be stored, the hook should likely have a 100-110° right angle bend so that it can be placed through the holes in the catwalk.

Although fifth-wheel hooks are an injury prevention tool, they have an ancillary benefit. The underside of the trailer is invariably dirty and greasy, even in the most pleasant of weather conditions. However, toss in some rain, snow or ice and the area between tractor frame and the trailer apron literally drips with slurry of road grime and grease. Many drivers have ruined shirts and jackets all the way up to their shoulder simply by reaching under a trailer to pull the fifth-wheel release. By keeping their arm from breaking the plane of the trailer, a driver not only helps avoid an injury, but also stays clean..

For the few drivers that pull van trailers with roll-up doors, a fifth-wheel hook can help prevent falls as well. Keeping the drivers’ feet on the ground, that same hook can be used to pull-down the trailer doors.

Some fifth-wheel hooks are marketed to also be used to pull the release for the sliding tandems. However that is a topic for a different issue of Beyond the Cab.

Do your drivers use fifth-wheel hooks? Have you ever asked them? A recent pole on Truck.Net revealed that 62% of drivers use fifth-wheel hooks religiously.

If you have further suggestions for controlling hazards associated with uncoupling trailers, we welcome your comments at losscontrol@midwesterninsurance.com. We also welcome comments on other non-driving hazards within the trucking industry and will post driver comments in future issues.

Copyright Ó2007 Midwestern Insurance Alliance

Midwestern Insurance Alliance, the exclusive workers’ compensation provider endorsed by the Kentucky Motor Transport Association (KMTA) and the Indiana Motor Truck Association (IMTA).





Preventing Injuries Associated with Uncoupling Trailers

1 05 2008

Although it’s not a complex task, uncoupling a trailer incorrectly can yield devastating results. For that reason, individuals new to the trucking industry are trained to follow very specific procedures. In large part, the uncoupling procedures included in driver training are intended to guard against dropping a trailer on raised landing gear, pulling airlines loose; or incurring other forms of property damage.

What driver training often fails to stress is the damage that can occur to the driver’s own body. Drivers pulling fifth-wheel releases can sustain shoulder, neck and back injuries. In an article in Dynamic Chiropractic entitled, “Upper Extremity Injuries in the Trucking Industry the authors indicate that injuries incurred from pulling a fifth-wheel release are often manifested as rotator cuff damage, subluxations (misaligned vertebrae) or lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow).

Because of the location of the fifth-wheel release handle, drivers who manually pull the fifth-wheel release by hand must stoop or squat; reach into the narrow area between the tractor frame and the trailer apron; and then pull hard enough to release the king-pin. The amount of force required to pull the fifth-wheel release handle depends upon a number of factors, to include the fifth-wheel type; the degree to which the fifth-wheel has been properly maintained; and the frequency at which it is used. The force required to pull the fifth-wheel release can also be dependent on the positional relationship between the tractor and the trailer. Particularly when the tractor and trailer are not perfectly aligned, increased tension can be placed on the fifth wheel assembly, making it more difficult (sometimes nearly impossible) to pull the fifth-wheel release handle.

 

This picture shows a driver reaching under a trailer to pull a fifth-wheel release. Notice that the driver is in a position that may increase the potential for injury (relying upon small muscle groups in the arm and shoulder for pulling). Additionally, in that position, the driver is unable to effectively use the weight of his body for mechanical advantage.

For this particular hazard, air-operated fifth-wheel unlocking systems represent an engineering control. These devises permit the driver to control the uncoupling process from inside the cab with little more manual effort than pressing a button. These systems are designed to work only when the tractor and trailer are not in motion and the parking brake is engaged. When functioning properly, these devises completely eliminate the injury exposure to the driver’s shoulder, neck and back from pulling the manual fifth-wheel release. As such, air-operated fifth-wheel unlocking systems represent the most effective and most desirable control for this hazard. They are available both as options on new equipment and asretrofit kits for standard (manual release) fifth wheels.
retrofit kits for standard (manual release) fifth wheels.

Another mechanical means of addressing this hazard are newly-designed fifth-wheels that require less pulling force than standard fifth-wheel models. At 65 lbs. of pull-force, Fontaine’s No Slack II® boasts to be easier to engage and disengage than any fifth-wheel on the market. As these still require drivers to manually pull the fifth-wheel release, they reduce (but do not eliminate) exposure to such injuries.

In the next issue of Beyond the Cab, other control strategies for addressing this hazard will be addressed, including the use of fifth-wheel release pulling devises; proper positioning of the power unit; executing proper body mechanics; and an effective preventative maintenance program. The next issue of Beyond the Cab will also reveal the results of an online poll that seeks to learn the percentage of drivers who have (and use) fifth-wheel release pulling devises.

If you have further suggestions for controlling hazards associated with uncoupling trailers, we welcome your comments at losscontrol@midwesterninsurance.com. We also welcome comments on other non-driving hazards within the trucking industry and will post driver comments in future issues.

Copyright Ó2007 Midwestern Insurance Alliance

Midwestern Insurance Alliance, the exclusive workers’ compensation provider endorsed by the Kentucky Motor Transport Association (KMTA) and the Indiana Motor Truck Association (IMTA).





Products to Prevent Injuries in the Trucking Industry

1 01 2008

We’ve Gone Interactive

MIA has been publishing its Beyond the Cab newsletter since 2000 and has distributed it via e-mail. However, that one-way method of communication robs each of us of the collective wisdom of each of Beyond the Cab’s readers. So beginning with this issue (February 2008) we have made a significant change. We have added an interactive feature. With this and with each subsequent issue of Beyond the Cab, you are not only permitted… but encouraged to share your opinion, insight and ideas. If this is something new and different for you, don’t be intimidated. Click here to learn how easy it is. Then come back and enjoy this first issue of Beyond the Cab – Interactive.

The Perspective of a Loss Control Consultant

As a loss control consultant with Midwestern Insurance Alliance, I am constantly keeping my eyes open for products that could help prevent injuries of employees within the trucking industry. This single-minded product focus causes me to thumb through as many trucking industry trade magazines and I can; has me running from one booth to the next at the Mid-American Truck Show; and causes me to spend way too much time on the Internet. It is also the reason that I frequently ask safety directors to reveal what products they have used (and recommend) to prevent injuries to drivers, mechanics and other employees.

When I find a particular product that appears will help reduce injuries, I try to get beyond the marketing hype and make a judgment call regarding the product’s efficacy. If the product addresses an actual hazard within the trucking industry; has the capacity to make an impact; and is priced within reach of the average trucking company, then I file that product in my memory. Later, through on-site consultations with MIA’s policyholders, or through venues such as newsletter articles, I recommend these products to trucking companies for addressing specific hazards.

In the first issue of this new interactive format for MIA’s Beyond the Cab newsletter, I will introduce both some of my long-standing safety product recommendations for the trucking industry, as well as some that I have learned of only in the past year. Although this newsletter includes links to specific products or manufacturers does not constitute an endorsement of their particular company or product. Instead, the purpose of recommending specific products is to increase your awareness of the availability of a particular type of safety-related product and how it might prevent employee injuries within your company. You are encouraged to look for other distributors or other manufacturers who may have a more suitable product design or a more palatable price-tag.

Slips and Falls

It’s February, and slips and falls on ice can be costly and frustrating. If you managed a retail business or a manufacturing operation you could address the issue of slips and falls on ice by keeping your parking lot and sidewalks free of ice. But there is little that the safety director of a trucking company can do to prevent drivers from slipping and falling on ice while they are away from your facility. So you just cross your fingers and tell your drivers to “Be careful”– right? There are an increasing number of companies manufacturing and marketing strap-on traction-aids that are easy to put on and take off and would work great for a truck driver. These products include Grip-X from Jordan David, and a similar line of products from Sure Foot Corp.

Pulling Fifth-Wheel Release

Routinely using a fifth-wheel hook is an easy step toward preventing injuries associated with pulling the fifth-wheel release handle. There are a variety of hooks on the market (available in just about every truck stop). Here is one online source.

Releasing Tandem Locking Pins

Although there is a move toward pneumatic tandem slide releases on semi trailers, there are certainly a lot of trailers on the road that require the driver to manually release the tandem locking pins. STA-RAT (short for “Semi Tandem Axle-Release Assist Tool”) is designed to eliminate the difficulties associated with releasing the tandem locking pins and holding them retracted until the tandem slide is completed. Another tool designed to prevent back and shoulder injuries associated with releasing the tandem locking pins is The Persuader.

Tarping Flatbed Trailers

Certainly tarping flatbed trailers presents exposure to a number of injuries, including falls from the trailers and strains associated with manually handling tarps. This powered flatbed trailer tarping system can tarp a load on the back of a flatbed without personnel having to climb onto the bed of the trailer or on top of loads.

Trailer Access/Egress

Whether getting on/off a flatbed trailer or getting in/out of a van trailer, hazards associated with falling or muscle strains are increased when drivers use the ICC bar as a step. There are a wide variety of ladder or step products to address this hazard. Some store out of the way when not needed. Others, such as one found on truckertotrucker.com and one located at truckersmall.net are portable and hence can be used if your drivers change trailers frequently.

Let’s here from You!!!

The above represents a sample of the products available to aid in preventing injuries in the trucking industry. What specific product or type of product do you recommend?