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Tow Trucking Fatalities and Serious Injuries

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Very few studies have been reported which illustrate the incidents, such as injury or death, that motor vehicle tow truck (MVT) operators face while on the job.

One study, by the Kentucky Injury and Prevention Research Center, and University of Kentucky researchers Mark Chandler and Terry Bunn, was published in the December 2019 issue of Journal of Safety Research. The study, titled “Motor Vehicle Towing: An Analysis of Injuries in a High-Risk Yet Understudied Industry,” examined the injury and fatality data and MVT Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in depth.

Today, a catastrophe is defined as the hospitalization of one worker, but before 2015, it was defined as the hospitalization of three or more workers. The study was conducted to understand any accidental influences associated with injuries involving commercial tow truck operators in roadside assistance situations “through analysis of coded and free text data” acquired by OSHA. It was also conducted to use additional data sources to determine any environmental factors in the injuries of tow truck operators struck by roadway traffic.

The OSHA Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) database contains information from 2002 to 2017 about the investigations of fatalities and catastrophes for incidents involving MVT operators providing roadside assistance.

A total of 106 IMIS cases were identified involving severe injury or death to MVT operators providing roadside assistance. Based on this dataset, the researchers found:

  • Two event types account for 92% of the identified cases: (1) struck-by incidents resulting from contact with roadway traffic, rolling vehicles, and equipment or other non-motorized objects (66%), and (2) caught-in between incidents resulting from being pinned beneath and between vehicles and being caught in moving parts (26%).
  • Twenty struck-by cases involving roadway traffic and addressing the use of high-visibility safety apparel (HVSA) were identified. Of these, 11 cases indicated the victim was wearing HVSA at the time of the incident, while nine showed they were not.
  • A total of 19 struck-by cases were identified, which addressed emergency light bar use. The emergency was used for all cases at the time of the incident.

Based on these findings, researchers concluded that more emphasis is needed on MVT operator initial and refresher training topics such as vehicle loading and unloading, defensive techniques when exposed to traffic on roadways, and proper wheel chocking and braking procedures. Also, it was recommended that states include tow trucks as a first responder vehicle type in their “Move Over” laws and implement public awareness campaigns to protect all MVT operators and first responders. initial and refresher training topics.

Having a strong safety culture is the foundation of every strong safety program. If your culture isn’t strong, no amount of training or written programs can account for the shortfall.  Take the time to develop and continuously monitor your safety culture – it could be the ultimate difference in the end.

A free abstract of the article, which contains a link to purchase the full text, can be accessed at A previous study on MVT injuries and fatalities conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) can be accessed at The NIOSH study found the average annual fatality rate in the MVT industry to be more than 15 times the rate for all U.S. private industry combined for the period 2011 through 2016.

Material posted on this website is for informational purposes only and does not constitute a legal opinion or medical advice. Contact your legal representative or medical professional for information specific to your legal or medical needs.