Workers comp claims resulting from use of upfitted equipment is on the rise. Poor upfitting decisions often result in expensive litigation to defend against alleged negligence. The average work-ers’ comp cost for a pushing/pulling injury is $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 up-fitted work vehicles) free from recognized hazards. “A variety of upfitting options are available to fleets to help reduce the risk of injury to employees, ranging from hydraulic self-unloading ladder racks to newer low-profile chassis,” said Mike Corchin, manager of truck business development for Wheels Inc.

When selecting upfit equipment, review vehicle requests and ask drivers follow-up questions to verify the equipment ordered is suitable for the job. “Make sure the vehicle is engineered up-front for the job it is required to do,” said Mike Sturges, national truck sales manager – Southern Zone for ARI. “If applications require crane installation on service bodies, the chassis GVWR should be sufficient for the application. Under-engineering can lead to un-necessary safety risks to drivers.”

Equipment Specification Considerations
Liftgates. A liftgate reduces the risk of back injury by allow-ing workers to easily maneuver, load, and unload heavy products in and out of trucks and trailers. “If liftgates are not currently in use, give them serious consideration,” said Ken Gillies, manager, truck operations ordering for GE Commercial Finance Fleet Ser-vices. “They can actually speed delivery with increased safety in many applications.”

Hydraulic Drop-Down Ladder Rack. Many fleets specify drop-down style ladder racks for vans. This helps minimize possi-ble back problems that could arise from removing a 24-foot exten-sion ladder from the roof of a van.

Slide-Out Bed. Pickups equipped with commercial-style caps are being specified with bed sliders, so the driver doesn’t have to bend or twist to remove a heavy object from the vehicle bed. “Fleets are also adding flip-up side doors on commercial-style caps to allow quick access to tools and equipment,” said Steve Swedberg, truck engineering, Emkay.

Rear Step Bumper and Grab Handles. Analyze ease of rear entry and egress from service and van bodies. More fleets are adding step bumpers and grab handles 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.

Side Steps on Pickups. “Another important consideration is side steps on pickups to get into cross bed toolboxes,” said Jeff Robley, national truck sales manager – Western zone for ARI.

Safety Tread Step. “A driver-side fuel tank with open safety tread step is preferable to closed running board steps, especially in areas where snow can create slippery conditions for the driver,” says Ron Ice, truck specifications engineer for PHH Arval. Other precautions include anti-slip coatings. “If there's any chance a driver is going to walk on a surface or use it as a step, it must not be smooth. Anti-slip coating or surface treatment is needed. Any operating area exposed to snow or ice conditions needs traction areas with large openings to prevent build up,” said Gillies.

Side Door Access. Walk-ins or dry freight bodies with step van side door access steps enable the driver to work inside the body protected from the elements,” said Bob Shipp, national truck manager – Northern zone for ARI. “They can exit the body with the load already staged. This type of truck also provides security for the driver and the product.”

Roll-Up Doors. A cargo body with a roll-up door needs a pull-down that can be reached from the ground, said Gillies.

Pull-out Ramps. These ramps expedite the removal of product loaded on a dolly. “We suggest ventilated style pull-out ramps that stop snow and rain from collecting on the ramp. It falls through the vents on the ramp deck,” said Shipp.

Mirrors. “Many fleets now spec heated mirrors and convex spot mirrors, optional equipment which improve visibility,” says Ice of PHH Arval.

Operator Safety, Not Cost, is Primary Concern
It is important to thoroughly train all employees handling equipment in its operation and safe use. Develop written guide-lines covering equipment usage. “The fleet manager should work closely with drivers to analyze their normal work processes. They may identify actions that can lead to injury, such as repeatedly having to climb into the rear of a service body truck for parts or equipment,” said Wayne Reynolds, operations manager, truck and vehicle upfitting for LeasePlan USA.

In addition, field managers should regularly inspect equipment to ensure its safe working condition. The guidelines should require employees to report any equipment failure or damage and stipu-late punitive consequences for not following maintenance check-list procedures.

“Ease of use and operator safety is a fundamental concern for all fleet managers. Consultation with the end user to include site visits to their location helps to understand how the vehicle and equipment is utilized,” said Bill Byron, senior truck specialist for Donlen. “Site visits provide the opportunity to determine what does or doesn't work well, and helps identify opportunities to minimize/eliminate injuries and improve ease of use. Employees are a company's most valuable resource. As such, cost should not be the primary factor when operator safety is concerned.”

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