A young man’s story propels awareness of vehicle recovery safety
Jordan’s story is unforgettable. And that’s the point.
Jordan Roppel was 18 years old and less than two months on the job at a perforating manufacturing plant in Standard, Alta., when the Toyota forklift he was operating got stuck in soft mud.
What happened next is something that’s common in the oil and gas industry: workers decided to tow out the lift.
The site’s lead hand drove his truck over to pull out the forklift. He attached a hoisting sling to a chain. A general helper secured an additional web sling to the other end of the chain and then over the truck’s hitch ball.
The lead hand got in the truck, while Jordan remained on the forklift. The lead hand drove the truck forward. The forklift didn’t move. The lead hand reversed the truck a few feet and then accelerated forward. Once, twice, three times . . .
On the final pull, the explosive force of the shock load snapped the hitch ball off and sent it flying at the speed of a bullet. Jordan died at the scene.
Vern Sparkes, founder of a local vehicle recovery equipment company, Ditch Hitch says shock loading is especially riddled with risk and explains it’s not the same as towing. “You’re taking a run at it and creating extreme kinetic forces,” says Sparkes.
A tow rope or strap can snap with enough force to put a dent in a tailgate, damage a grill or cause serious injury if someone is in the line of fire. A six-foot run in a ½ ton truck generates 12,000 pounds of force. That stored energy is enough to break off a ball hitch or other inferior towing equipment and turn them into extremely dangerous projectiles.
In fact, all kinds of commonly used equipment used to recover vehicles can fail, injure and kill:
- Tow ropes with hooks: ropes or straps can snap, kinetic force can turn hooks into projectiles
- Open or closed hooks on vehicles: a study by an Alberta utility company found most hooks fail between 4,000 and 12,000 pounds
- Shackles: great for hoisting and rigging but cannot be used for side loading or shock loading; never to be used for vehicle recovery
- Pintle hitches: good for pulling trailers but the hitch receiver’s pin strength is generally unknown; gates, balls and pins can all fail
- Shackle brackets: good for winching on a straight, inline pull only; manufacturers such as Warn and Crosby advise their shackles are not designed for side loading or shock loading.
- Connection pins: while some can withstand up to 42,000 pounds of force, many fail with as little as 4,800 pounds of force; most pins do not have weight limits or breaking strength specifications.
“It will take time to change how vehicles are recovered,” says Mark Salkeld, Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC) president and CEO. “We know poor practices are happening right now and it’s just a matter of time before it happens again. It’s something we have to stop.”
Jordan’s mother, Tammy Roppel shares candid advice on vehicle recovery.
“Before a recovery begins, stop if you ever feel unsafe. We know first-hand the pain that comes from proceeding with an unsafe procedure. Don’t be afraid to say no and walk away if you need to. No job is worth risking a life.”
Jordan’s memory is kept alive in a scholarship fund of $2,500, through a campaign called Remember Jordan in partnership with Ditch Hitch and PSAC.
Sparkes adds, “When someone gets stuck, remember Jordan. When they think about pulling a vehicle, remember Jordan. When they pick up a chain or sling, remember Jordan.”
For more information on vehicle recovery and safe towing practices, stay tuned for our next blog post in this series—What to Know Before You Tow.
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