The Dangers of Stretched Cable
By RANDALL C. RESCH - AT Operations Editor
In the February 2014 issue of American Towman Magazine, it was mentioned that extreme weather, snow and ice prompting increased business for towers across much of the midwest. One article that raised my concerns involved a recovery where one tower was winching a vehicle that had spun out and into a ditch. It required stretched cable to pull it back out.
The article described that another vehicle came to the recovery scene and drove under the cable, "stretched high enough, that the cable scraped over the vehicle's roof and it kept going." The operator said, "If it had hooked on the front of his car, it could've jerked our tow truck around and hurt the driver." What a scary possibility, and one all too common when cable is stretched. What the article didn't mention was whether or not the tower made any attempt to illuminate the stretched cable announcing its presence.
When initiating cable during recoveries and winch-outs, it's the tower's responsibility to identify its presence. Flares, cones, and red-flags draped across stretched cable are common means of identifying cable. If additional personnel are on-scene and they're officially trained and qualified (with task certificate) to direct traffic, they too can be added as additional measures.
Let's say the vehicle mentioned above did lose control, yet nothing whatsoever was done to identify stretched cable. Who holds total responsibility if the motorist was injured or killed, regardless of the fact they accidentally lost control? As the tower stated, the car never stopped; so if the vehicle had snagged the cable—and if nothing was done to identify the cable—the tower and company could be responsible for a wrongful injury or death.
A similar scenario repeated itself in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where a motorcyclist rode into an unmarked cable during a tow truck's recovery, suffering fatal injuries. An article described what wasn't done on-scene during the winch-out and how the inactions of towers and law enforcement have them facing ultimate liability and responsibility.
Identifying stretch cable is a process that's easily added to any winch recovery scenario. It's as simple as making four or five 12" by 12" red flags (like water ski flags) that can be clipped along the stretched cable's length.
Regardless of whether the cops are on-scene, the safety actions you take might prevent an accidental death. By simply attaching some kind of visual identifier, or placing them near or at the site of stretched cable, you'll have met a minimal standard of care that suggests you did ... something. If someone is injured or killed because you did nothing, the responsibility and liability becomes yours. Take the time and add critical identifiers to your recovery scene.
Randall Resch is American Towman's Operation's Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contact. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500-industry related articles for print and on-line. In September 2014, Randall will be inducted into the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame in Chattanooga, TN. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org