ROCHERSTER HILLS, Mich.—Performing roadside truck tire service work is a very dangerous job. Most of us take it for granted that the people performing this work know what they are doing and have things under control. Certainly, most of them do. But when you think about it, it takes a lot of courage to change a tire along the side of a busy highway where thousands of cars are screaming by and where you are constantly buffeted by their high-velocity jet streams.
Add pouring rain, driving sleet, or whiteout blizzards with freezing temperatures into the mix, and you have my idea of really bad time.
If you are a commercial tire service technician who's been awakened in the dead of night to make this call, you probably wonder if you're being paid enough for the thrill of enjoying this opportunity!
All too often, we hear or read about someone servicing a car or truck along the side of the road who is killed by on-coming traffic, a drunk driver, or becomes part of a larger accident scene that started at the breakdown site.
Usually, the police cite poor visibility of the breakdown scene, if the blame goes to the commercial dealer, or poor visibility of the breakdown scene as well as drunkenness, fatigue or loss of control, if the blame is assigned to the vehicle driver. Regardless of who gets blamed, the commercial tire service person is going to be much the worse for wear.
But there is no need for these courageous souls to risk their lives and put themselves in harm's way if a few precautions are taken to ensure their safety while they do this dangerous work. There are a few basic safety practices that should be followed at all times—even when the weather is clear and warm and no one else is on the road early on a Sunday morning.
The first thing that must be determined when the service person arrives on the scene is whether the disabled truck is carrying hazardous material. If it is, the vehicle should be inspected for any visual leaks.
Dry vans carrying drums can leak through the floors as well as out the trailer door. Tanks on tanker trucks should be thoroughly inspected, too. If you think sticking your head under a trailer to inspect tires in the winter is bad when ice drips down your collar, imagine sulfuric acid or PCBs running down your back!
All vehicles should be inspected for fuel leaks. If any leaks are found, the truck should not be serviced until the leak is stopped or it has been declared safe by fire or police personnel. (You don't want to discover a fuel leak after you've lit that cigarette you've been dying to have.)
I hope it goes without saying that flares or lanterns with flames should not be used around gasoline or other flammable/combustible liquids. If flares are the only warning signals available, they can be placed at a distance from the liquid or gas where a fire or explosion cannot occur.
To be on the safe side, it is a wise practice always to have a set of three reflective triangles in the service truck for these types of emergencies.
The truck to be serviced should be at least five feet from the edge of the nearest traffic lane. If it's not, have the driver move it farther off the road. If he gives you a hard time about moving it, tell him to change the tire himself. Trust me, he'll move the truck. Do not risk your life for someone you never met and will probably never see again.
Truck drivers are required to carry emergency warning devices. If they are not set up when the service person arrives, it is the technician's responsibility to set them up correctly to protect himself from being injured by passing or oncoming traffic. They should be positioned in the following manner, which creates the best visibility and provides the service person with the most protection.
Generally, if the breakdown area is on a flat, fairly straight road, one warning device must be located on the traffic side within 10 feet from the front or rear of the vehicle being serviced. The other two devices should be placed approximately 100 feet from the stopped vehicle in both directions so that they are visible to passing and oncoming traffic on two-lane and undivided highways.
If the disabled truck is stopped within 500 feet of a curve, a crest of a hill or any other obstruction to the traffic's view, the triangles or flares should be placed 100 to 500 feet from the truck in the direction of the obstruction. This will provide other motorists with ample warning that a breakdown is up ahead.
On divided or one-way roads, three warning devices should be placed at the rear of the stopped vehicle. One within 10 feet of the rig, another 100 feet from the truck, and the last one 200 feet from the unit. With this placement, motorists should not be surprised or at least have ample time to react when encountering this breakdown situation.
The service truck should also be parked to provide the service person with the most safety. It should be located 30 feet from the disabled truck with the flashers clearly visible to passing and oncoming traffic. This may not be the most convenient location, but parked in this manner, the service truck can be used as a shield to protect the technician from passing traffic.
Many service people park their service trucks much closer to the disabled vehicle so they don't have to walk so far to get their tools, air lines etc. But parking the service truck this close leaves no margin of safety between the truck and the service technician, if someone runs into it.
The service truck's parking brake must always be applied, just in case someone does run into it. This may prevent the service truck from becoming airborne or being pushed into the disabled rig.
Most importantly, the service person must never work between the service vehicle and the stopped vehicle. Many technicians have been killed when their service trucks were struck by traffic and they were crushed between the two vehicles.
All service people must make a good evaluation of the breakdown situation before beginning to work on the disabled vehicle. They must make sure no chemical or flammable situations are present before beginning their work.
If the disabled vehicle cannot be serviced safely on the side of the road, they must insist that it be moved to a location where they are not in danger of being injured by passing or oncoming traffic.
There are many heroes and courageous people in the world. But I never heard anyone say they regretted only having one life to give for changing flat tires.
Make sure your service people don't offer up their lives for this cause.