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Whether you work for a tree care company or are a municipal arborist or do utility right-of-way maintenance, aerial devices, particularly bucket trucks, are some of the most important machines in your equipment fleet.

Elevate Your Aerial’s Productivity

By Amber Reed


Whether you work for a tree care company or are a municipal arborist or do utility right-of-way maintenance, aerial devices, particularly bucket trucks, are some of the most important machines in your equipment fleet. To maintain safe productivity on any jobsite, follow these best practices for safe set-up, operation and care for your bucket truck.



According to Jim Olson, product and safety engineer, Terex Utilities, conduct a site survey before any work begins — identify potential hazards that you need to avoid during operation, including ditches, drop-offs, holes, debris, sewers, overhead obstructions, electrical conductors and underground utilities.

At this point, said Olson, you also need to determine if the ground is firm enough to support your bucket truck. If the ground is not firm enough, you need to use pads under the outriggers and crib as needed to distribute the load or reposition the truck on firm ground. If your bucket truck does not have outriggers, or is only equipped with one set, make sure all the tires and axle suspension springs are equally loaded.

“Always set up your truck in a position to safely do the work,” he said.

If the vehicle must be parked on a slope, always keep the boom on the uphill side, chock the wheels and work off the rear of the truck. Per ANSI A92.2, bucket trucks should be operated on firm, flat surfaces and never exceed a 5-degree slope. “Use your bucket truck’s chassis level indicator to make sure the truck is always set within the manufacturers operational limits” said Olson.

“There are many limitations for the truck and crew when working on an incline so we instruct our crews to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maximum slope set-up for that model of aerial device,” said Tom Wolf, president of Wolf Tree in Knoxville, Tenn. Wolf Tree is a division of Davey Tree.

“You need to know what the maximum bucket load capacity is on your truck and do not exceed it at any point during operation,” added Olson. “That means you need to know how much each person, tool and accessory weighs before getting into the bucket. And, you need to anticipate how much weight will be added during operation — from branches and twigs that fall into the bucket to sawdust that will accumulate.”

It is also important to evaluate the site’s ambient conditions, including temperature. Operating in extreme weather conditions requires that you take extra precautions to protect your crew and truck. “Once our site survey is done, our crews hold a job briefing to discuss the project,” added Wolf. “It is important that each and every team member understands what needs to be accomplished and what challenges are involved.”


Photos provided by Terex UtilitiesMark Vaughn, vice president of Davey Tree in Kent, Ohio, also requires a pre-work meeting with the crew. “Before project start-up, Davey crew leaders perform a jobsite safety/hazard analysis with the crew, develop a job plan — including delegation of task assignments — and communicate the plan through an interactive job briefing with the crew. Once the crew is working the plan, if error precursors arise, the crew must stop, evaluate hazards, and repeat the planning process to safely adapt to the new circumstance. Our on-site crew leaders and their supervisors play a very active role in this process, through observing, supporting and mentoring crew members.”

According to Olson, the job briefing session not only includes information such as identification of potential hazards discovered during the site survey, but also a discussion about what is required by the truck and the crew to avoid these potential hazards. Every member of your on-site crew should know the location, function and operation of all the controls, including emergency and accessory operation.

Now is a good time for you and your crew to visually inspect the condition of the truck — oil, fuel, tires, suspension, torsion bars, outriggers and safety equipment — for any leaks, loose items, cracks or damage. Also, raise and lower the booms through a complete cycle using the lower controls, looking for any malfunction or problems. “When multiple operators use the same truck, no one operator can assume that he/she knows exactly the condition the truck was left in by the previous user, which further emphasizes the need for pre-flight visual inspection and cycling,” said Olson.

“You should never operate a bucket truck that is damaged or malfunctioning,” he added.

Once your truck is ready to work, it’s important to make sure your crew is properly equipped for the project. “Operators must wear an OSHA-compliant fall protection system with a lanyard attached to the aerial device anchorage at all times in case they are ejected from the bucket during work,” said Olson.

“Also, you must make sure crew members are wearing personal protective gear, including an insulated hard hat, hearing and eye protection, proper boots and suitable clothing for the weather conditions while working,” he added.

Now that your crew is ready, it is time to prepare the site for operation and follow established protocol for traffic control — set up road cones or barricades and signs to divert traffic away from the work area.

“One of the biggest challenges for our crews on any jobsite is being exposed to traffic,” said Wolf. “We take our traffic-control efforts seriously, signs before and after the work area, to catch the attention of drivers we’re sharing the road with. If we determine during the site survey and set-up that the jobsite is not safe, we will not operate in the area until we can make it safe for our crews, our equipment and the community.”

Vaughn concurs, “Understanding the big picture of how the task, locale, equipment and people must interact safely and efficiently on the worksite is one of our biggest challenges on any project because there are multiple variables that one must assess and manage.”

It is important to always clear the area of bystanders and miscellaneous obstacles and debris, including fallen tree limbs. “Remember, tree limbs can become energized when touching a live power line,” said Olson. “If there are downed power lines in the area, your crew members should call an electric utility crew to clear the area. Arborists are not allowed to be any closer than 10 feet from a downed energized power line, and, depending on the line voltage, the minimum distance may increase.”



Olson also offers simple operating tips to be safe and productive throughout the project.

“When operating the boom, operate in smooth, gradual movements,” he said. “Avoid abrupt starts, stops and reversal of direction.” He added that operators should always be aware of the boom’s trajectory before operating. “Never operate the boom in a position where it can be exposed to the path of open traffic lanes.”

Aerial devices used by most arborists are only designed to lift personnel — do not use them to lift or lower objects unless the aerial device was specifically designed and equipped to do so, said Olson

Once the bucket is raised and the boom is in motion, do not adjust outriggers, and you should never move the vehicle while personnel are in the bucket. “Operators  must always stand with both feet on floor of the  bucket — do not sit or climb onto the edge, or use planks, ladders or other devices to gain additional work height,” said Olson. “To protect your entire crew from falling debris or objects, it is important to keep ground personnel out from under the aerial device work area.”

Also, make sure that no part of your bucket truck, including the boom and platform, come into contact with fixed objects like trees, buildings or utility poles. Always maintain proper minimum approach distance from energized power lines. Your bucket truck cannot protect you from phase-to-phase or phase-to-ground contact, which means you need to allow for  sag, sway or rocking as you are positioning and operating your aerial device.

Never place booms, buckets or personnel closer to energized electric power lines than the applicable minimum approach distance for the nominal voltage of the energized electric power lines on the site.

If any part of the boom touches an energized object, it should be considered energized. If any part of the boom contacts a grounded object, it should be considered grounded.

If you become aware of any dangerous condition, unusual operation or unusual sound while operating your bucket truck, stop all movements immediately. “Do not move the truck until the problem has been diagnosed and resolved — your safety is priority,” said Olson. “No matter how long it may take to get help, it’s critical to the safety of the operators, and bystanders, to resolve the situation using good judgment and common sense.”



When the project is done, it is important to follow safe practices to protect your truck and crew. Lower the boom to fit securely in the boom rest, locking it into place with the hold-down system to prevent bouncing during transport. You should never travel with personnel, tools or any objects in the platform or with the boom raised. Stow and secure all tools, gear and loose items in your truck to prevent falling onto the roadway. All personnel need to ride in the truck’s cab with safety belts on. “Always drive carefully and obey all traffic laws,” added Olson.

Before leaving the jobsite, fully retract the outriggers and disengage the power take-off unit.

Once you are back to the shop, inspect, maintain and repair the bucket truck according to manufacturer’s guidelines. Keep up with preventive maintenance inspections as required by the manufacturer.



To effectively and efficiently use your bucket truck, OSHA standards require that every operator must be qualified to operate the machine, said Olson. Bucket truck manufacturers are required to provide operator’s manuals with each truck, but it’s the responsibility of the employer to ensure that each individual operator is properly trained and qualified to operate the aerial device in the expected working environment. .

According to Vaughn and Wolf, Davey arborists and line clearance arborists receive initial and ongoing education and training through the Davey Career Development Program. This program includes information from the manufacturer’s operator’s manual, the Davey Tree’s Safety & Training Manual, tailgate training documents, as well as career development packets that document, test and verify the employee’s education, training, and demonstrated proficiencies in the required skills for the job classification or work process to be attained.

According to Olson, to supplement in-house training programs, Terex offers “The Edge” online training courses, based on information outlined in the operator’s manual, which can be accessed at anytime, from any computer. “Bucket trucks are designed to lift you and your tools to an aerial worksite,” he said. “The best way to keep you safe, and your truck productive, is to familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s operator’s manual and commit to following all of its safety guidelines and requirements.”


Amber Reed is with Performance Marketing, West Des Moines, Iowa.

Article provided by Terex Utilities, Watertown, S.D.

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