Revising Upfitting Specs Can Decrease Workers’ Comp Claims
Avoiding potential workers’ compensation claims is becoming a greater factor in fleet upfitting decisions. For example, according to a Zurich Service Corp. study, the average workers’ comp cost for a pushing/pulling injury was $10,175, while the average cost for a lifting/bending incident is $8,989.
Under OSHA regs, an employer must provide a workplace (which includes upfitted work vehicles) free from recognized hazards. “There are a variety of upfitting options available to fleets to help reduce the risk of injury to employees such as hydraulic self-unloading ladder racks, newer low-profile chas-sis, even simple things such as step bumpers,” said Mike Corchin, manager of truck business development for Wheels Inc.
A Fleet Manager’s Responsibilities
When selecting upfit equipment, review vehicle requests and ask follow-up questions of drivers to verify that the equipment ordered is suitable for the job. Also, when transferring used truck equipment to a new chassis, follow the same safety procedures and compliance with technical specifications as when the equip-ment was originally installed. It is wise to consult with an upfit-ter’s technical staff when making equipment transfers.
It is important to thoroughly train all employees handling the equipment in its operation and safe use. Develop written guide-lines covering vehicle and equipment usage. Follow manufacturer guidelines to avoid unnecessary accidents. Field managers should regularly inspect equipment to ensure it is in safe working condi-tion and that equipment is only used for its intended purpose. The written guidelines should require employees to report any equip-ment failure or damage and stipulate punitive consequences for not following maintenance checklist procedures.
Equipment Specification Considerations
Liftgates: “A liftgate reduces the risk of back injury by allowing workers to more easily maneuver, load, and unload heavy products in and out of trucks and trailers,” said Dave Decker, manager of truck engineering for Wheels Inc. “A liftgate can quickly pay for itself if you multiply the average workers’ comp costs by the number of overexertion incidents at a company.”
Hydraulic Drop-Down Ladder Rack: Many fleets specify drop-down style ladder racks for vans. “This helps minimize pos-sible back problems that could arise from removing a 24-foot extension ladder from the roof of a van,” said Decker.
Slide-Out Bed: “More fleets are specifying bed sliders for pickups equipped with commercial style caps, so the driver doesn’t have to bend or twist to remove a heavy object from the vehicle bed,” said Decker.
Rear Step Bumper and Grab Handles: Analyze ease of rear entry and egress from service and van bodies. “More fleets are adding a step bumper and a grab handle to facilitate getting in and out of a service body bed. To minimize slips, fleets are opting for an open strut style rear bumper to allow snow or rain to fall through the openings and not collect on the bumper,” said Decker.
Making Upfits More Ergonomic
The best way to ensure that new upfit equipment meets a fleet’s needs and provides safe operation is to conduct a pilot re-view of the vehicle at the upfitter location, said Decker.
Midway Specialty Vehicles employs an ergonomic solution with customers to evaluate the merits of upfitting and/or customiz-ing a portion or all of their fleet for employees whose primary work environment is a company-supplied vehicle. A task force, usually comprised of representatives from HR, fleet, technical services, and safety departments, establish criteria regarding safety, cost, and functionality.
“These recommendations are based on information collected from workers’ comp claims, employee interviews, observation, evaluation of body postures, and input from the in-house safety specialist,” said Mike Violi, president of Midway Specialty Vehi-cles. “The task force also spends time on the job with mobile em-ployees to observe workplace conditions. The safety department evaluates the body postures of employees to understand the health implications of the current working environment. This data is used to evaluate compliance of the mobile vehicle/office to corporate guidelines as well as a reduction of driving risk factors.”
A Serious Topic With Costly Repercussions
Liability emanating from fleet usage of upfitted equipment is an issue to which corporate fleets are devoting more attention due to the high cost of litigation to defend against alleged negligence and to protect the health and welfare of company employees.
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