A recent review of fatalities at road construction sites by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that 143 deaths between 2003 to 2010 were the result of being struck by a vehicle or mobile equipment that was backing up. Dump trucks were responsible for the greatest number of backover fatalities (84), but other vehicles like semis, forklifts and garbage trucks are frequently involved in these accidents, too.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recently released a new guidance document to help employers and workers avoid these deadly collisions. These accidents are preventable if proper equipment is installed and everyone at the worksite follows protocol for backing up.
Using Technology in Vehicles
A variety of technologies exist that can be installed in vehicles to help drivers back up safely. Backup video cameras, which are becoming more and more common in vehicles, provide a view of the area behind the vehicle. Cameras can be installed on trucks and other vehicles if they are not built in, but keep in mind that you’ll need to find a place to mount the camera that will provide the best view. With some large trucks, OSHA suggests more than one camera may be necessary.
Proximity detection systems are another option, and they use radar or ultrasonic waves to alert drivers to the presence of people and objects behind them. These systems emit signals that bounce off of objects in the vicinity and return to a receiver in the vehicle. The driver is then warned about the presence of something behind the vehicle by a sound or image. A tag-based system is also a type of proximity detection system that can help warn workers and drivers about unsafe situations. Workers wear electronic sensing devices that send signals to vehicle drivers when workers get too close. The system can also be programmed to warn workers when they need to put more distance between themselves and a vehicle.
Policies for People
In addition to using helpful technology, having procedures in place for workers to follow will help prevent collisions.
First, workplaces can consider implementing internal traffic control plans, which are systems that tell workers where to drive and can separate vehicles from pedestrians. These plans can also reduce the need for backing up in some cases. At construction worksites, these plans may need to adapt to changing conditions. At industrial worksites, safety managers can consider installing more permanent traffic control measures like floor marking tape to designate traffic lanes.
Next, make sure employees receive training about backup procedures. Workers should know where they need to be, when vehicles need spotters, how to be a spotter and where the blind spots of vehicles are.
OSHA requires that all vehicles on construction sites that have obstructed rear views have either a backup alarm or a spotter, and in many cases both of these safety measures should be used because the noise of construction sites can drown out alarms. Spotters should use agreed upon hand signals, maintain visual contact with drivers and wear high-visibility clothing. If a driver loses sight of a spotter, he or she should stop the vehicle immediately.
To help workers on the ground understand what drivers can and cannot see, NIOSH provides blind spot diagrams for many vehicles and construction equipment ranging from bulldozers to dump trucks that workers can consult prior to beginning work around a particular vehicle. Alternatively, during training workers can get into the driver’s seat of the vehicles at the worksite to get a better sense of the visibility drivers will have.
Many backover accidents occur because a driver or worker on foot either doesn’t see or hear the approaching danger. Improving communication at the job site through the use of technology and clear policies for workers can contribute to the reduction of these serious accidents. For more information about preventing backover accidents at your workplace, consult WorkZoneSafety.org.