Utility Anchor Crews Reduce Injuries, Boost Efficiency with Torque-Free Drills

Thu July 30, 2020 - National Edition
Little Beaver


If an auger strikes an object or requires additional torque to power through tough soil, Little Beaver’s torque tube transfers kickback to the power unit, bypassing the operator and nearly eliminating the risk of strain or serious injury.
If an auger strikes an object or requires additional torque to power through tough soil, Little Beaver’s torque tube transfers kickback to the power unit, bypassing the operator and nearly eliminating the risk of strain or serious injury.
If an auger strikes an object or requires additional torque to power through tough soil, Little Beaver’s torque tube transfers kickback to the power unit, bypassing the operator and nearly eliminating the risk of strain or serious injury. Little Beaver drills combine high-horsepower engines with reversibility, reliability and convenience of hydraulic drive.

It happens to everyone: you purchase a new tool, appliance or machine to solve a specific problem, only to discover an additional, equally valuable benefit.

Maybe it's an appliance purchased for higher capacity that ends up being far more efficient than the unit it's replacing. Maybe it's a new ladder selected for safety that also happens to be far easier to carry and maneuver compared to the rickety old ladder it replaced.

Whatever it may be, it's a pleasant surprise when a purchase outperforms expectations and provides benefits you did not anticipate. This is precisely the position in which a large telecommunication services company landed after replacing an injury-causing tool its crews used for placing utility anchors.

The company has long held employee safety a top priority. And for good reason — it has high-risk positions such as linemen, electricians and heavy equipment operators on its payroll.

The anchor crew members, however — a seemingly low-risk group of employees considering they don't work high above the ground or in close proximity to high-voltage cables — still managed to stumble into the company's safety spotlight.

Anchoring Injuries

The anchoring crews spend their days installing 4-ft. anchors to secure the cables supporting utility poles. Despite staying grounded, members of these crews had a tendency of incurring injuries at an alarming rate.

The culprit was their anchor-driving tool.

The crews primarily relied on high-speed, hand-held drills known as anchor crankers, which feature two large handles and a high-speed rotary, and require two individuals to safely operate.

According to an anchoring crew leader with the company, the anchor crankers are simply dangerous and resulted in injuries, workman's compensation claims and missed time from work.

The tool resembles a chainsaw engine with large handles and an aggressive rotary. Due to the machine's torque and high rpm, if one operator happens to lose their grip, the other is typically unable to maintain control. This occurs most frequently when the anchor hits an underground object or gets deep into the ground and requires additional torque.

In the event that both operators do let go, the machine's torque instantly transfers from driving the anchor into the ground to aggressively spinning the handles above the ground. Too often, the free-spinning metal handles will strike an operator, resulting in leg and other lower-body injuries.

Search for Solutions

In search of a safe solution, the company's safety specialist found a drill capable of protecting operators from harmful drilling torque. The drill's manufacturer, Little Beaver Inc., developed a torque tube, which at one end connects to the handles and at the other to the hydraulic power source.

If the auger strikes an object or requires additional torque to power through tough soil, the tube transfers kickback to the power unit, bypassing the operator and nearly eliminating the risk of strain or serious injury.

For the utility company, the steel tube provided the solution for which they had been searching.

As the anchoring crews set out with their new hydraulic earth drills, they found that the torque tube — while excellent for transferring torque — restricted where they could place anchors.

"Since the torque tube extends directly back from the operator to the power unit, the length of the tube dictated where the power unit could be positioned," explained Mike Hale, Little Beaver sales and marketing manager. "And with the pole being anchored also directly behind the operator, the length of the tube would restrict where the operator could drill."

The company reached out to Little Beaver in hopes finding a solution. The manufacturer created adjustable-length torque tubes, which enable operators to adjust the placement of the power unit to accommodate the ideal anchor location. The solution proved successful and the company soon ordered the drills for each of its crews.

Like any company however — even those with worker safety top of mind — efficiency and ROI remain high priorities.

Safety and Savings

The more time the crews spent using the drills, the more it became evident that torque-free drilling was not the only benefit. The drills also drive anchors fast.

"It literally takes seconds to drive an anchor into place," said Hale. "Anchor crankers are fast too, but if the anchor gets wedged under a root or buried object, the only way to remove it is to twist it out by hand."

Manually dislodging an anchor, depending on its depth, can take as long as 45 minutes. Hydraulic drills on the other hand, are equipped with reverse, so if an anchor gets stuck it can be backed out in seconds.

The hydraulic drills are not only more efficient than anchor crankers, according to crew members, they also are a hands-down better alternative than installing anchors by hand.

While the injuries associated with anchor crankers have forced most contractors to quit using them, some did not seek alternative drills and instead began placing anchors by hand.

"Setting a single anchor by hand can take as long as 10 minutes, and after adding the time it takes to drive between locations, those crews sometimes only average about an anchor per hour," said Hale.

Using hydraulic rigs, crews can easily work at double that rate, even on a bad day. And, when factoring in the time it takes to dislodge the occasional anchor, crews are two to three times more efficient than their counterparts driving anchors by hand, according to Little Beaver.

A Successful Switch

Since switching from anchor crankers to Little Beaver hydraulic drills, the company has reduced the number of worker injuries — once a common occurrence — to near zero and also experienced quick return on investment thanks to the drill's overall efficiency.

For more information, call 800/227-7515 or visit www.littlebeaver.com.

Little Beaver drills combine high-horsepower engines with reversibility, reliability and convenience of hydraulic drive.