Safety Topic: Loading Wood Poles
Primary Hazard: Struck By / Caught Between
Loading wood poles is one of the most fundamental tasks associated with linework. Despite the familiarity with the task, linemen are seriously injured and killed too often loading and unloading poles. Linemen have had their hands, arms, legs, and feet crushed by unstable pole piles. Many linemen have been killed after being struck-by by a suspended pole due to a winch line or load hook failure. There are numerous accounts of workers in the industry that have been pinned underneath a digger derrick after it rolled over because the truck's capacity was exceeded or the outriggers were not deployed. Following are Critical Observable Actions we look for when observing crews loading or unloading wood poles.
Critical Observable Actions:
The tailboard addresses the hazards of pole loading. Tailboards come in many shapes and sizes. But in general, if the crew will be loading or unloading poles, we look for a mention of the activity, the associated hazards, and effective mitigations. Of course, the tailboard should be signed by all involved.
Work equipment is set up to avoid overhead obstructions. Loading and unloading poles either in a yard or along a road will often expose the crew to overhead hazards; often, energized conductors. We look for the crew to preferably set up well away from the overhead hazards. If that's not possible, then we look for the crew to have an engaged spotter to maintain Minimum Approach Distance.
The crew stays well clear of the pole pile. We have seen so many injuries occur when a crew member climbs up on a pole pile or stands directly adjacent to it. Pole piles are inherently unstable. If a crew member climbs on one, the odds of injury increase dramatically. Always remain out of the bight.
The chain or sling is appropriately rated and positioned for load balance and stability. This is very important when lifting a pole, given the importance of balance and the fact that most poles are heavier on one side than the other. Ensure the load is balanced and that the load line is perpendicular. We have seen several loads leave the ground when the load line was off to one side, causing the load to shift quickly back to perpendicular. This inevitably creates a very dangerous caught between / struck by hazard.
The crew is communicating effectively. As with any suspended load procedure, the crew needs to have specific and clear communication protocols in place and in use. Any miscommunication increases the potential for serious injury.
The lifting equipment is stable and level. Again, this is true for any suspended load. We ensure the vehicle is stable, with outriggers and pads deployed. Often crews will question us looking for outriggers and pads. But we cannot think of a situation where not having pads under the outriggers is safer than having them.
Everyone stays out from under the load and outside the path of movement. Again, this is true for any suspended load operation. Everyone on the crew should know the path of travel precisely and never place any part of their bodies under the suspended load.
Suspended load injuries happen very quickly. Be sure your crew thinks through these things before commencing with pole pile operations.
Thank you for working safely.