As described by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), when a vehicle is driven in reverse on the project site, it can lead to a “backover,” an incident in which a worker who is standing, walking, or kneeling is struck by the reversing vehicle. Although backovers are preventable accidents, they claim the lives of dozens of workers every year. According to the OSHA Integrated Management Information System, there were 194 backover fatalities between 2005 and 2010. Many of these fatalities can be traced back to the construction industry, where heavy vehicles are commonly used to transport materials, lift heavy objects, plow the earth, and more.
In this editorial, an OSHA defense lawyer will cover everything contractors need to know about backovers in the construction industry. Failing to educate your workforce about the dangers of backovers could lead to a serious injury or fatality, not to mention an OSHA citation. Can you afford to fall behind schedule, balance your budget with increasing premiums, AND pay a costly citation? Don’t let backovers befall your project site. Take a proactive approach to worker safety by training your team and partnering with an OSHA lawyer to perform a third-party site audit.
How Do Backovers Happen?
Backovers can occur anytime vehicles are present on the project site. For many project sites, this is virtually all the time, which means alerting your workforce to the risk of backovers is essential if you want to avoid these potentially fatal accidents. To get a clearer picture of how backovers occur, let’s take a look at two real-life examples:
- June 18, 2009: an employee wearing a reflective safety vest is struck by a dump truck being driven in reverse. The rear passenger side wheels make contact with the worker, killing them immediately. The dump truck was outfitted with an audible back up alarm and operating lights.
- June 9, 2010: an employee standing near a loading dock was struck by a reversing tractor trailer moving into the same dock. The worker was crushed between the trailer and the dock.
Both of these incidents could have been prevented with better education and training. The hectic pace of the building process is only made more frantic by the loud noises and large objects that populate the project site. With so many distractions, it is easy for workers to lose focus, which is when accidents like those described above occur. Apart from the inherent commotion of the project site, other common causes of backover incidents include:
- Drivers unable to see workers in their blind spot.
- Workers unable to hear backup alarms due to other loud construction-related noises.
- Backup alarms that haven’t been maintained and no longer function.
- A spotter who is assisting one vehicle may not be cognizant of another vehicle approaching them from behind.
- Workers that fall off vehicles they are riding on and are subsequently reversed over.
- Drivers that assume the path is clear when it is not.
Preventing Backover Incidents
The key to preventing backover incidents in the short-term is the use of well-trained spotters that understand how to guide drivers without putting themselves in harm’s way. Backup video cameras with in-vehicle display monitors are another effective solution to this problem; however, this will be a long-term solution that requires a significant investment of capital, as is the case with proximity detection devices and tag-based systems.
Depending on the scope of your projects, you may want to consider internal traffic control plans for your project site. These are used to communicate where workers can drive and help mitigate the need for backing up. Needless to say, less driving in reverse means less backover incidents. Another benefit of internal traffic control plans is that they help keep your workers away from your vehicles by partitioning the project site to keep workers away from vehicles and vice-versa. If a worker is injured or killed in a backover incident on one of your project sites, consult an OSHA defense attorney for assistance. There’s a good chance it will be argued that the incident was a result of your negligence to take prevention seriously, which means you need aggressive legal representation to keep your project moving.
Suggestions for Spotters
Spotters are one of the most effective ways to cut down on backover incidents, but you can’t afford to rely on an inexperienced or untrained spotter to keep your site free of backovers. Taking a vested interest in the success of your spotters can help you all but eliminate backovers. You can keep your spotters safe by following these tips:
- Verify that your spotters and drivers have established hand signals before a vehicle is backed up.
- Ensure that your spotters maintain eye contact with the driver when the vehicle is in reverse.
- Instruct drivers to hit the brakes when they cannot see the spotter.
- Avoid heaping additional responsibilities on your spotters while they are actively guiding vehicles.
- Enforce a zero-tolerance policy for spotters that use mobile phones, headphones, or other personal items that can distract them from their job.
- Outfit your spotters in high-visibility clothing.
Most vehicles can be equipped with cameras. And most vehicles should be equipped with cameras (on the project site). Understandably, this isn’t going to be a realistic expectation for some businesses, but prices for durable cameras are decreasing, which is allowing more and more contractors to better protect their workers. Different setups are required for different vehicles, and some will be more costly than others, but if you can gain access to a fleet that includes cameras, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of a backover incident taking place on your project site.
Proximity Detection Systems
Radar and ultrasonic technology can also be an effective backover deterrent. This technology works by bouncing a signal or ultrasonic wave off an object to detect its presence. This information is translated into visual and audio warnings that can be used to guide the driver. Workers must be trained on these systems, which must be setup properly to avoid faulty detection.
Tag-based systems are another form of detection system that construction professionals can utilize to improve driver detection. They utilize an electromagnetic field-based system consisting of generators and field detecting devices. These systems can perform a variety of important functions, including warning workers and stopping vehicles remotely.
Internal Traffic Control Plans
Lastly, internal traffic control plans can be used by project managers to direct the flow of vehicles through the project site to avoid contact with workers. What follows is an efficient workflow that prioritizes safety. To achieve this, clear signage must be posted indicating hazard areas, throughways, and more.
Backovers can occur when you least expect it. Don’t let your workers fall victim to these preventable injuries. Next time a worker is injured on your project site, consult an OSHA defense lawyer.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.