It’s The Hose, Stupid.

On any given sunny day during the early 1970s, you would most likely find me on one of many thousands of construction job sites in the booming Houston Texas area, plying my trade as a concrete pump operator. In those days, there were probably less than thirty concrete pumps in the entire southeast Texas area.

Concrete pumping just began its trek to become a valid concrete placement technique in the construction industry. Pioneers like myself and many others slid into a routine of pump all day and repair all night, just to make it to the next job. Convincing an entire construction industry about the merits of pumping concrete obsessed us to the extreme.

Safety occupied only the most remote corner of our new industry, surfacing only when one of us were severely injured. After all, we were just beginning to figure out what might go wrong.

My first memory involving a concrete pump and boom combination reflects regaining consciousness after the momentary impact of a high pressure steel braided concrete hose knocked me thirty feet from the location of the pump. In those days, we mounted heavy steel braided hoses at the articulating joints of booms used to place concrete and at the tip of the boom, unlike today where you will see only one hose mounted to the end of the boom.

The majority of my concrete placing jobs during the 70s required me to carry 300 feet of placing pipe and hose at all times. Typically, the boom dropped into the slab where a single steel braided hose connected to several sections of pipe and hose with the hose configured in a smooth curve between boom and pipe. As the pour worked back to the pump, I cleaned and loaded all of the pipe and hose, and I raised the boom above the pour to complete the work. I would also frequently place concrete into wall forms by suspending hose above the wall, while a hose man controlled the fine movements of the hose.

Fast forward to today where the end of today’s long booms becomes home to a good “hose man” with the compulsion to place over 150 yards of concrete per hour. One can imagine the force that a solid stream of liquid concrete leaving the end of a five-inch hose at the tip of a placing boom 200 feet from a modern concrete pump’s hopper generates. Compared to the “old days”, we were lucky to sustain half of today’s volume and a “long boom” stretched out less than 100 feet.

The traditional 70s configuration of a steel braided double ended boom tip hose married to the high volume long booms of today translates into one of the most dangerous self perpetuating scenarios in concrete placing activities. Common practice finds concrete pump booms fitted with a heavy double-ended hose with the potential to severally hurt workers in close proximity the hose during concrete pumping.

On occasion, workers have lost their lives, injured by the spontaneous rapid motion of the hose during an air or materials plug discharge. Imagine being clubbed in the head by several hundred pounds of metal hurled with tons of force generated in a momentary burst of energy. In the industry, it’s called “hose whipping”. It can happen with any boom size and at any pumping velocity.

We all know the difficulty of changing our habits. Looking back to the 70s, I never gave the heavy double-ended hose a second thought. It was the way concrete pumping was done. I’m proud of the ground I helped break in the 70s, but I wish I had seen the heavy double-ended hose issue coming. I’ve long since left the concrete pumping business for other construction challenges; however, recent changes in the industry spurred me to reflect on this concrete pumping practice long considered the norm.

Today, with the construction industry so fluid and under so much economic pressure, concrete pumps change ownership repeatedly and new inexperienced people find themselves in the business of pumping concrete. My message to everyone involved with concrete pumping; please change your thinking about heavy double-ended hoses now, before the next person finds them self in the hospital over an accident facilitated by one of these hoses.

ConcretePumping.com, a website run by Todd Bullis, serves a community of concrete pump operators and owners. Discussions about the merits of using special boom tip hoses frequent the website. Owners and operators alike express concerns about using heavy double-ended hoses in the wrong situation. However, they also express concern about the large number of construction people that don’t yet understand the danger posed by an old, outdated way of doing things.

Think about a safer way to place concrete with a boom. It’s not the 70s. If you own concrete pump and placing booms, invest in the new lightweight tip hoses. If you operate a concrete pump or placing boom, take a moment to change out the heavy double-ended hose for the new lightweight tip hose before you raise the boom over a hose man’s head. The lives of the people under your boom depend on it.

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