Dealing with Lightning and OTR Tires Safely - Tire Review

Lightning and Tires

Mining TruckOne thing for sure: spring and summer bring storms that can be severe at times. Sometimes the storms can come together quickly making your reaction time short. This can be a major safety concern if one does not know where to seek shelter while on the property. There are times that not just you but also the OTR service technician will need to react quickly to avoid a situation.

In a past article I talked about the importance of knowing your surroundings and being safe around equipment at working sites. This also goes with the weather. Know where to seek shelter if the weather quickly turns for the worst. If the weather could become a threat while you are doing your tire inspections or working on a tire, you need to ask the site management for their procedures and policies. This is especially important if severe storms are being forecast. You do not want to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

When a lightning storm is approaching, seeking shelter is certainly important. Being out in an open quarry or mine site is like being on a golf course: there are not a lot of places to seek cover. And you do not want to be near the mine or quarry equipment when there is a storm approaching.

One of the great threats is a lightning strike. Large operations should most certainly have an action plan in place should lightning hit a piece of equipment. If there isn’t, that is a good safety item to bring up at the next tire meeting with the operator.

When there is not a policy or procedure, I would suggest that you work with the safety director and write up a policy as to the action that needs to take place in the event of a lightning strike – with your main focus being the tires.

Over my years in the tire industry, I have been asked to inspect equipment tires that have been on a piece of equipment that was struck by lightning or a power line. Tires are the grounding source and thus the energy will travel to and through the tires to the ground. The greatest threat is an internal tire fire that could lead to a possible tire explosion.

One Dealer’s Policy

Jeffrey Staggs, who is the field safety and training manager for Purcell Tire & Rubber Co., said there are several procedures that should take place when a piece of equipment is struck by lightning:

“The vehicle, regardless of size, should be confined at a distance deemed necessary by tire professionals for a minimum of 24 hours prior to any tire work being performed. This vehicle shall not be moved or occupied during this period. This is done to prevent injury or death due to the potential explosion of the tires by possible and unseen fires inside the air chamber. No tire work or inspections shall be performed during this time.”

As he further stated, it does not matter what size equipment is involved, if it has tires it needs to be parked safely away from people. Once the 24-hour period is up and it is deemed to be safe, the tires should all be removed, destroyed and replaced with new tires. Also you should closely inspect all the wheel hardware and if there is any question then replace.

People continue to question replacing the tires. Many times they say, “The tires look fine.” The problem is, what you do not see can be the issue. The rubber most likely is no longer flexible due to the high-voltage charge that went through the tires. Also, the energy exits out of the tire to someplace that you may not be able to pinpoint. For certain the tire is not the same and replacing it with a new one is the only safe procedure to follow.

As I always suggest, if there is any question contact the tire manufacturer. By doing this you can obtain their procedures and policies for their tires, especially if their tire is on a piece of equipment that was struck by lightning or a high-tension power line. After you have the manufacturer’s procedures, share this information with your customer so that they can review both policies and update their procedures as necessary.

Also, Purcell’s recommendation is to destroy and replace any tires on equipment struck by lightning. That effectively also makes those tires ineligible for retreading.

Other Key Areas

Staying focused on safety around OTR tires, there are a couple of other areas that I would like to mention. I have seen a lot of different reasons why a tire fails. But other than being removed for a cut or impact, heat is one of the major reasons to take a tire out of use. Many of your customers get paid based on tonnage moved, especially this time of year. What this means is that they are pushing the tires to – and sometimes beyond – their limits.

Heat separations can occur on any tire whether it is on a loader, articulated dump or haul truck. Each piece of equipment can push the limits on any tire. Heat separations can be caused by a number of factors:
• Air pressure is critical to maintain especially when the machine is being maximized. Be sure to check the tires when they have cooled down for 24 hours, if possible. This will give you the best cold inflation measurement. If the equipment is being used 24 hours a day, doing a cold inflation check is obviously much more difficult. If you do check the tires hot, there are a number of different inflation gauges to help translate a hot inflation reading to a cold reading. Monitoring this will help you to establish a hot inflation number to use. One other point: never bleed down a tire when it’s warm. If you do there could be more damage done to the tire.
• Another cause can be the load, speed and distance at which the equipment is being operated. Knowing your customer and monitoring the cycles of the equipment is critical when it’s being pushed to maximize production. Doing cycle studies has generally been left to the manufacturers, but it could take months for them to get to the site. By then it is often too late and the damage to the tire has been done.

There are some great smartphone apps that can make this much easier for you to accomplish on your own. Take some time and investigate the best option for your situation.

One app I’ve used allows you to simply leave the smartphone in the cab of the vehicle while it is at work. Once the equipment has run for a period of time, the information that is gathered by the app is excellent for you to share with the customer.

Some of what is provided is the actual run time of the equipment, the speed both high and low, distance and elevation differences. The data will also help to determine the actual TMPH or WCF for the site. This information can then be used to make the changes necessary to help maximize tire performance. The best part is you have real time information for your customer, which can save them a lot of money in reduced downtime.

The app data helps them to control the potential heat build-up inside the tire creating a much safer environment and contributing to extended tire life.

Being safe is not just a phrase, it is an action we all have to take seriously. Always monitor your surroundings, the equipment, the job site, the terrain and the weather. Ask the operators what their procedures are if a storm comes upon you quickly. And discuss with them what steps are in place to monitor the tires on equipment that was struck by lightning or made contact with a power line.

There is more to selling your customers tires than just the price. Being someone who works with them to better their policies and improve the tire performance shows them that you are truly an expert in your field and someone they can rely on for the long-term.

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