A Bucketful of Trouble
You might call them “cherry pickers”—a lot of people do. They’re also called boom trucks, basket cranes, or bucket trucks. But whatever you call them, they often pose hazards to the worker.
Bucket truck injuries and death statistics are lumped in with what are called “aerial lift” figures, but around 70 percent of all aerial lift deaths are due to bucket trucks. (An additional 25 percent are due to what are called scissor lifts, which are mobile scaffolds.) Electricians suffered the most deaths from bucket trucks (25 percent), followed by construction workers (15 percent) and electrical power installers and repair persons (13 percent). Tree trimmers are also frequently vulnerable to bucket truck dangers.
Bucket Trucks Explained
Bucket trucks are nothing more than a utility truck (small to medium low-sided truck designed to carry loads) with an extendable pole and a bucket or basket attached to the end of the pole. The bucket and pole combination is called the boom. The boom, usually hydraulic and powered by an electric motor, can be controlled in two places, inside the bucket and by using a panel on the truck. Today’s bucket trucks are designed to power the boom without running the truck’s engine, increasing safety and saving fuel as well. Bucket trucks can have a working height of from 20 to over 100 feet.
These trucks are used in a wide variety of services and jobs, by both governments and private contractors. Some of the more common industries that use bucket trucks on a regular basis include:
- Utility workers (electrical, telephone, cable, and so on)
- Tree trimmers
- Commercial roofers
- Billboard workers
- Construction workers
- Window cleaners and maintenance staff
Common Hazards of Working with Bucket Trucks
With great heights, hydraulics, and proximity to power lines come a greater danger of severe workplace injuries. Some of the more common types of bucket truck accidents are:
- Falling out of the bucket.
- Electrocution from direct contact with power lines (booms are insulated to avoid electrocution in that fashion).
- Overturned bucket trucks. Their high center of gravity makes them vulnerable to tip-overs.
- Hydraulic power failures that result in the bucket losing control or dropping.
- Road accidents between bucket trucks and other vehicles.
In November, 2014, a Butler County, PA, bucket truck worker died while tree-trimming because the bucket came down abruptly. And in Cumberland County, PA, during March of 2015, a boom collapsed, killing a worker on the ground and causing the worker in the bucket to be thrown out of it. That worker was seriously injured. Two separate Massachusetts tree-trimming accidents a week apart in 2013 resulted in one worker suffering severe electrical burns and the other one dying from electrocution.
Safe Work Practices
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has the following recommendations for safe work practices when using bucket trucks and other aerial lifts:
- All workers who operate the booms should be properly trained in safe usage.
- Perform maintenance on bucket trucks according to the truck manufacturer’s instructions.
- Never override any safety devices of any kind (hydraulic, mechanical, or electrical).
- Never allow workers to place themselves between overhead hazards and the rails of the bucket, as they risk being crushed between the two.
- Maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet between workers and the nearest live power lines, wires, and other conductors, and always treat all such items as live unless they have been proven to be non-energized, or are insulated.
- Workers should use body harnesses or restraining belts to keep from being ejected or pulled out of the bucket.
- Always set the truck’s brakes. When trucks are parked on an incline, use wheel chocks as well.
- Bucket trucks should never be driven or moved while there are workers in the bucket.
- Do not exceed the truck’s load limits.
When Safety Standards Are Not Followed, What Are Your Options?
If safe work practices are not followed, or a bucket truck is not properly maintained, it’s possible a case can be made for negligence. Maryland employers, businesses and managers have legal responsibilities to keep employees from being harmed, in accordance with all regulations, even when employees are working jobs that carry known hazards. Likewise, the companies that manufacture bucket trucks have a legal responsibility to ensure that their machines do not injure workers while they are using them normally. But sometimes, malfunctioning equipment due to defects or poor maintenance, coworker or employer negligence, or bad decisions by those in charge can place workers at risk.
Let “The Injury Lawyer” Help You
Steven Heisler has devoted 25 years to helping injured people and their families pursue compensation from negligent people and companies who caused them to be injured. He genuinely cares about each and every one of his clients. If you think you might have a workplace injury case, you may be eligible for workers compensation, disability and other resources to assist with medical bills and your financial obligations. Call The Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler of Baltimore, Maryland, today for a free initial consultation by calling (410) 625-4878, or use our online form.