What’s the most dangerous part of a utility worker’s job? Climbing a telephone pole? Dealing with a downed wire? While those are both high-risk activities, the most dangerous is driving.
Utility workers face the most risk for accident, injury, and even death when they are driving to the job site. In fact, driving is the leading cause of death for workers in the U.S. regardless of industry.
Your utility driver accidents are costing you lost time, higher insurance premiums, and a high cost of loss. Worse yet, they’re causing your employees pain and suffering. Even if you don’t have many accidents, that doesn’t change the high-probability that it will happen eventually.
You don’t have to suffer through high accident numbers. You can do something about it.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common driving risks your utility workers face and some ways that you can address these challenges to prevent accidents.
Why Do Utility Drivers Face So Much Risk?
We said that driving is the most dangerous thing your utility workers do, but why?
For starters, driving is inherently risky, but most utility drivers receive no special training. A truck driver or bus operator goes to CDL school, receives special defensive driving training, and practices and hones their skills before hitting the road.
Your utility workers face almost exactly same risk as truckers and bus operators. The problem is, since they’re not CDL drivers, your utility workers receive no defensive driving training if you don’t provide it.
The fact is, if your employees must drive to perform their job duties, they’re professional drivers. Professional drivers need safety training to do their jobs effectively. The investment will save you time and money while making you a more efficient organization. And, your employees will be safer and suffer fewer injuries.
4 Common Risks Utility Drivers Face
Now that it’s clear why utility drivers face risk, let’s cover some of the specific safety challenges they face. These risks are unique to them compared to other folks out on the road, and they frequently lead to accidents.
The problem is, these risks are so often overlooked. The good news is these risks are all avoidable and the accidents they lead to are completely preventable. So, let’s look at the risks and some solutions you can teach to your drivers.
1. Stopping Distance And Rear-End Collisions
Utility drivers are often behind the wheel of heavy vehicles. Your company’s vehicles may not have the weight of a semi-truck, but they present more challenges than driving a typical sedan or pick-up truck. Their increased weight means it takes longer to stop, thus putting your drivers at risk for rear-end collisions.
Rear-end collisions aren’t just fender-benders either. Rear-end collisions are the most common type of accidents. They are costly, often serious, and can even be fatal.
While rear-end collisions are common, they’re so easy to prevent. You need to educate your drivers on maintaining a safe following distance.
If your drivers maintain a 3 to 4 second following distance in normal, dry conditions, they can easily prevent rear-end collisions.
Not only that, but you need to educate and train them on how to see and react to risk in time. They need to Look Ahead for reasons to stop and brake early and gradually. This will keep themselves and others safe.
2. Blind Spots
Every car has blind spots. Even your typical sedan has areas you can’t see while driving. However, most utility vehicles have larger and more blind spots than other vans and cars. This creates additional risk of striking:
- Fixed objects
- Other vehicles
- Worst of all, pedestrians and cyclists
Just because someone has a clean driving record does not mean they are ready to get behind the wheel of your company’s vehicles. They need a proper vehicle orientation to learn about the blind spots of their vehicles and reference points they can use to maneuver around them.
Then, you need to teach your drivers to Look Around and rock and roll in their seats. They should Look Around by checking their mirrors every 5 to 8 seconds while behind the wheel. They should rock and roll in their seats to see around their blind spots. Rocking and rolling means you move your body forward, backward, left, and right to get a better view of what’s happening around them.
3. Performing Safe Turns
Intersections are the most dangerous driving environment your drivers will face. There are other vehicles, fixed objects, changing traffic patterns, pedestrians, and cyclists to worry about. That risk carries over to turns which happen at intersections.
Turns are dangerous because your drivers might not be used to operating a larger vehicle such as a utility or service truck. Their size and blind spots make turning challenging, thus increasing the risk of a collision with another vehicle or a person crossing the street.
Just like any accident, collisions during turns are 100% preventable. For one, your drivers need to know proper turning mechanics such as making squared left turns and blocking their right turns for squeezers. Beyond that, there are some basic defensive driving techniques every driver should know.
To prevent turning accidents, your utility drivers must:
- Look Ahead 15 seconds as they approach the intersection - they need to scan the area for risk and check the status of the light
- Cover their brake and be ready to stop as they approach the intersection
- Look left, right, and left again before proceeding through an intersection
- Rock and roll in their seat before and halfway through a turn
- Always Communicate with 3 to 5 flashes of their turn signal before taking action
- Make turns going around 3 to 5 miles per hour
4. Vehicle Clearance
If your utility workers are used to driving vans and sedans, they’re not prepared for the challenges their new vehicle’s size and weight presents.
Most utility vehicles are taller and wider than your average vehicle on the road. This presents the risk for fixed object strikes from above and to the side. It also presents the risk of hitting another vehicle when your drivers thought they had clearance.
These accidents are common, costly, and hurt people.
The first step to preventing these accidents is to educate your drivers on their vehicle specifications. Your drivers need to memorize the height, length, and width of their vehicle. Then, they need to never enter an area that they aren’t 100% certain accommodates their vehicle dimensions.
Next, your drivers need to Look Ahead for low overhead clearance. This could be bridges, low hanging branches, low hanging wires, awnings, or structures in a drive-through. Teach your drivers to never proceed if they are uncertain their vehicle will fit underneath something.
Finally, teach your drivers to Look Ahead and plan ahead for close-quarter maneuvering. Teach them to avoid narrow roads, bridges, and alleyways. If they Look Ahead for these situations and make a plan in advance, they can stop their vehicle and find an alternative route.
You Have Professional Drivers - Train Them
If you have utility workers, you have professional drivers. Just because someone has a clean driving record does not mean they are ready to get behind the wheel for your company. If you don’t train your employees to be defensive drivers, you face the risk of:
- Higher insurance premiums
- Higher accident rates
- Increased cost of loss
- Increased workers comp
- A fatal collision
These are all varying degrees of disastrous for any organization. It’s time to do something about them.
If you invest in defensive driving training, whether you make it yourself or buy something pre-existing, your efforts and resources can pay for themselves. You’ll save time and money while protecting your employees.