Chain of Thought

Trying to Kick Painful Tows

On August 2nd, a shuttle truck operator and a mechanic hooked a tow chain between the truck and a piece of heavy material that had fallen from another truck on an in-plant roadway. (You probably already know this is not going to end pretty.) To position the truck to hook up the chain the operator looked rearward through the open (sliding rear) door to see. As he began to tighten the chain to take up the slack the chain broke, whipping forward and flying through the door, hitting the operator in the face. The bones in his face were shattered.

I share this story with you because I know many lift truck operators like to use their vehicles for towing when the occasion calls for it. Jim Shephard knows this too, and has seen his share of methodologies as a lift truck operator trainer who plies his trade out in the real world. In fact he shared the above story with me so he could share a few of its morals with you.

Jim told me that in recent months he's found chain hooks welded to bobcat buckets, loader buckets, and other pieces of equipment for towing or pulling material or equipment. In all cases Jim warned the people involved to remove those hooks.

Why, because big bad OSHA will come down hard on them? Well, OSHA really doesn't have a clear policy on the use of hooks attached to lift trucks for towing. However, some lift trucks do have a tow pin mounted in the back lower section of their counterweight. What for?

“Lift trucks are sometimes used to tow wheeled buggies and or be towed (if stuck),” Shephard answered, “especially the cushion tire models when one goes off the pavement. The operator's manual does not address towing. Our training materials have included towing and we discuss the drawbar pull rating of lift trucks. To find this out you must get a copy of that equipments specification sheet. Operators never see this sheet, although the manufacture or dealer will provide one with their proposal.”

Indeed, operators can be pretty inventive on their own when figuring out how to solve a “stuck-in-the-mud” situation. Buying a tow rope at Wal-Mart might even sound like a good idea. But Wal-Mart won't tell you about whip angle, snap-back, connection point capability or shock loading.

Where towing and lift trucks are concerned, OSHA falls back on its material handling and storage standard, 1910.178(a)(4), dealing with powered industrial trucks. This is the paragraph that applies:

“Modifications and additions which affect capacity and safe operation shall not be performed by the customer or user without manufacturer's prior written approval. Capacity, operation, and maintenance instruction plates, tags, or decals shall be changed accordingly.”

Now promise me, if you're ever tempted to consider using your 8,000-pound-capacity four-wheel electric rider lift truck to tow a disabled 18-wheeler away from your dock you'll check with your material handling equipment dealer first. Or maybe a shrink to have your head examined.

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