Wire and cable reels are common sights at worksites, but that doesn’t always mean people know how to handle them. 

Metal or wooden reels can weigh hundreds of pounds when loaded with aluminum or copper wire. With so much weight effectively loaded onto essentially an axle with two giant wheels, workplace safety is paramount to ensuring no one gets hurt and nothing gets damaged. 

The last thing anyone wants is for someone to get injured on the job, especially when the injury could be avoided. Proper handling is more than ensuring reels don’t roll away when you’re not looking; it creates a safe working environment, makes the installation process more efficient, and promotes the best usable lifespan for the reel and the wire. 

Managing Wire Reels 

As the often heard saying goes, “Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should.” 

It might seem easier to push and pull reels where they need to go, but that could damage the reel, the wire, or yourself. When time is money, broken reels and damaged wire can slow projects down to a crawl, and an injury can derail jobs altogether. 

With a few simple tips and tricks, workers can prioritize jobsite safety programs while keeping an eye on the bottom line. 

Before Touching the Reel, Inspect It 

You wouldn’t buy a used car without looking it over. The same should be done before trying to move a reel. 

First, check if the reel or the wire is damaged. If so, alert someone and leave it alone. Moving a damaged reel could do more harm than good, especially if multiple areas are damaged. From collapsed drums to broken flanges, weak points on the reel can make it more difficult to move and harder to unwind wire or cable from later. 

If it’s a large reel, don’t try to move it without the help of a rigging system or a team lift, but only if the option is available and the reel is light enough. It should go without saying, but don’t try to team-lift a fully loaded wire reel. 

Lift Loaded Reels Horizontally 

Cars work best when all four wheels are on the pavement. The same can be said when trying to move a reel. 

When lifting a loaded reel, lift it horizontally with the flanges touching the ground. If done correctly, the reel should look like two wheels on an axle – not a makeshift coffee table. Once the reel is in the correct position, move it using a forklift, hoist, or crane. Don’t try to move it by hand or lift it by the flange. 

While it might seem tempting to roll the reel around, don’t do it if you can avoid it, and don’t ever drag, slide, or scuff the reel! 

Why does it matter if the reel contacts the ground? Despite looking strong enough to absorb a few knocks, it doesn’t take much to rip a bolt or break a flange. If that happens, it will be harder to move the reel or, even worse, require workers to scrap the reel and rewind the cable onto another one. 

This is one exception to the rule: Empty reels can be moved by the top flange while on its side. 

Secure the Reel 

You wouldn’t put up a tent without anchoring stakes in the ground, would you? The same can be said for not securing your reel before moving it. 

Always use blocking and chocks when shipping reels or moving them from one place to another so they don’t roll around. If using a forklift or other rigging device, make sure the reel is strapped to the equipment you’re using to move it using either chains, straps, or some other acceptable option. Whatever you do, don’t allow the reel to be unsecure. It can easily get damaged or broken if it comes loose or slips off the machinery. 

Don’t tie strapping over the wire when tying down a reel because you can damage the wire, leading to project delays and added costs. Instead, tie a chain or strap or run a pole through the arbor hole and attach it. 

Be Careful Moving Loaded Reels 

They may look sturdy, but a reel’s flanges are only attached to the drum using a few bolts. It doesn’t take much effort to damage them, especially when fully loaded with cable. 

With that in mind, don’t flip loaded reels onto their side. The sudden weight shift on the drum can damage the wire or the reel, potentially reducing performance. 

Also, depending on the product shipped, the manufacturer may attach the reel to a pallet to keep it in one position throughout the shipping process. It may seem like overkill, but if the layers of wire get tangled together or mixed up, the cable can wind onto itself. In some cases, it might become impossible to unwind. To avoid problems, use a forklift or pallet jack to move the cable reel until it’s time to use it. 

Most importantly, workers should always be outfitted with personal protective equipment (PPE) and other safety equipment. Employees should wear steel-toed boots, safety glasses, and gloves to avoid splinters, accidental drops, and other injury scenarios. Depending on the worksite, workers may also need other PPE. 

Storage Matters 

Wooden reels are useless if they’ve been stored in six inches of water for a month. If possible, avoid leaving the reels stored in areas where they could encounter water, chemicals, or other liquids. 

“Some plywood reels have paper cores,” Aaron Yaddow with Carris Reels explained. “Everything aside from those paper cores is relatively impervious to water, but the cores are not. They’ll soak up water like a sponge. They might be okay for payoff but could also become structurally unstable.” 

But moisture isn’t the only obstacle crews face while storing reels. Overhead hazards can be just as bad for wooden reels, ranging from overhead pipes to low ceilings and drooping wires, especially when stacking them on top of each other. 

If a flange gets caught by an overhead object or the reels are stacked too high and become unstable, the reel can fall, causing damage or injuries. 

It should also go without saying but use a forklift to separate large reels. Don’t move reels by hand, especially if they’re stacked. 

Watch Your Weight 

If you’ve ever thrown a 45-pound bag of dog food into the front of a shopping cart, you’ve likely noticed the cart becomes harder to control. 

The same can be said about wire reels when the weight isn’t even across the length of the reel. When the cable isn’t evenly distributed across the drum, dishing occurs. It can also happen when it hasn’t been stored correctly and is exposed to moisture and other elements. 

“If you’re not handling the reel properly or pulling on a loaded reel by the flange, the flange will go from straight to curved out,” Yaddow said. “Dishing means the flange is concave on one side, and sometimes wires will come down on that edge, causing the same problems as if you had dragged the reel around.” 

When a reel dishes, it becomes weaker, harder to use, and less functional. If the damage is bad, the wire might need to be unspooled and loaded onto another reel. Doing that wastes time, money, and labor resources. 

When In Doubt, Ask for Help! 

No one needs to go it alone, so don’t be afraid to ask others for help. 

Loaded reels can weigh hundreds of pounds. Mishandling them can not only make it harder for crews to use them, but they can become damaged, making them useless. Worse yet, workplace accidents can get someone hurt or even killed. 

Don’t let mistakes jeopardize a safe workplace. When in doubt, ask a supervisor, the manufacturer, or another expert about their best practices for handling reels. Doing so ensures they work to the best of their ability so you can maximize their usable lifespan. 

Note: Each situation requires unique safety measures to be applied. While these tips and best practices are intended to help avoid injuries, they don’t replace common sense and company-specific policies and procedures. Kris-Tech nor Carris Reels are liable or responsible for injuries or damage associated with reel handling and movement.

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