When it comes to extracting or pulling stuck equipment out of the mud, a ditch or whatever, safety should be a main concern.
“We need the guys and gals to think a little bit …There is more to it than just hooking and pulling,” said Fred Whitford, Purdue University Extension, a pesticide programs coordinator, during the National Agronomic, Environmental, Health and Safety School held in the summer.
Reminders of safety during the late fall and winter for pulling equipment out of field ditches and mud holes by company employees seems appropriate timing.
When pulling equipment that won’t budge, and a chain or pull strap breaks, the tendency is for either one to fly toward the rear or front window of a vehicle, especially if it is a pickup doing the pulling. And that broke chain or strap is very dangerous to anyone nearby, too.
Whitford talked about fatalities and major injuries that happen all the time because people fail to use good judgment and the right tools. Whitford highlighted a few of the topics covered in the Purdue Extension booklet titled, Extracting Stuck Equipment Safely, which is available for downloading or purchase via www.the-educationstore.com.
CHAINS NOT RECOMMENDED
Not recommended for use in extraction is what has traditionally been used throughout history—a link chain. There are reasons that chains are not recommended today. They often are not rated for pulling the weight involved, and they often are in poorly maintained shape with stretched links or hooks not matched to the chain strength. A chain also causes a jolt as it is pulled taught, which doesn’t occur with new technology extraction tools.
Chains are traditional farmer tools found in almost every working farmer pickup, but today, chains should be replaced with “recovery straps” for most jobs.
As a general statement, Whitford said, “Nobody knows the strength of the chains they have in their trucks.” Strength rating requires checking the markings on the chain and hook, and low-rated chains are very common. “If you are going to use a chain, at least use good quality chains instead of junk,” he said.
A recovery strap is not a tow strap. Whitford said tow ropes “are worthless” for extractions. A tow row/strap comes with hook hardware attached in most cases, and a tow strap doesn’t stretch; it tears. The stretching is the most important aspect of a recovery strap for use in extracting equipment.
“I picked up a 110,000 pound rated tow rope the other day, but it was still a tow rope,” he said. A comparably rated recovery strap is still the proper tool because of its rubberband-type stretch.
GET RID OF CLEVISES
The recovery strap comes without hardware attached. A bolted/screw shackle needs to be used with a recovery strap—not a hook or a clevis and pin.
“I’m telling you that you’ve got to get rid of clevises; they are people killers. They pull apart,” Whitford stressed.
A shackle has a screw-in bolt instead of a hitch pin and a cotter pin for securing the clevis. Shackles do not spread apart under the pull of weight. It is likely that the shackle will drastically bend and the screw bolt not come out. In contrast, a heavy-duty clevis will bend, and both the clevis and pin go flying into the air. The shackle is just as strong when the recovery strap pulls on the screw bolt as the round part of the shackle.
As for attachment of the recovery strap to vehicles and equipment, finding the proper attachment point can be tricky. Attaching to a towing ball or trailer hitch is probably not going to work because such setups are commonly not rated for more than 3,500 pounds of force.
Keeping the recovery strap away from a sharp edge that might cut it has to be considered, too.
The objective for safety is to keep something from breaking. “If something breaks, how am I going to keep things from flying into the windshield?” Whitford asked the crowd.
His answer to stop a strap from flying upward if it would break, which several in the audience were already aware of, is to place a weight over the recovery strap. Some ideas of weights are to thread the strap through an old tire or through a large heavy pipe or laying a piece of carpet over the strap.
“I’m going to put whatever weight I can in the middle, and the purpose of going to that trouble is because if something breaks, instead of it shooting up, the weight is going to make it shoot down and keep it out of a windshield,” Whitford said.
Avoiding a strap or broken pieces flying through a windshield can further be improved by doing things such as raising the lid of a toolbox at the front of the pickup bed or raising the hood of vehicles involved in the extraction, even though the hoods will restrict vision. Putting obstructions between the pulling tools and vehicles’ drivers is important.
Flying pieces are also a concern for any spectators or coworkers, and they must be out of the area completely, even if the strap has been weighted down. “Do not rely on luck; take every precaution,” Whitford said.
HAVING THE RIGHT TOOLS
Preparations need to be made to extract equipment and vehicles. A company should have the tools appropriate for extracting the heaviest equipment up to probably 160,000 pounds of pull. As Whitford noted, that might sound excessive, but it isn’t when mud is involved.
The persons working to extract a piece of equipment should know the weight of the equipment stuck, and if mud is involved, there will be a certain amount of suction holding the equipment. It has been determined that if equipment is buried to “tire depth,” then the pull to extract it will be the weight of the equipment plus 75 percent more of the equipment’s weight. If the vehicle or equipment is buried to “wheel depth,” then there is 100 percent more weight than the equipment to pull. If a vehicle is buried to the body, then the number goes up to 150 percent of additional weight to pull.
Another consideration about an extraction is to have the pulling vehicle/equipment on slightly higher ground if possible. In a mud situation, that means pulling up and out instead of straight against a wall of mud.
It is important to eliminate jerking by the pulling vehicle. Jerking often accelerates as the vehicle’s driver makes stronger and stronger jerks, often causing something to break.
It is imperative that employees recognize if they have the right equipment and vehicles necessary to extract the weight. Companies should not hesitate to hire a professional to do the extraction. Cables are the workhorse for extraction operations by professional towing and extraction companies, as shown by wreckers being equipped with cables.
Although cables are not commonly available for use by ag retailer or similar operations, it is important that cables be handled properly when they are used. Bent cables are a problem. Cables must have a “horse collar or thimble” in place at the end of the cable so that there is distribution of the force during the pull and the cable isn’t bent and weakened at the hookup point.
There are many cases when a piece of equipment is stuck and there is the potential for employees to extract it, but everything has to be done with safety in mind and employees educated on procedures. And they must have the proper tools for extracting the equipment and vehicles.
Whitford concluded by saying, “You need to have dedicated recovery equipment that you can rely on to safely pull out equipment.”