Injury prevention

Reducing backover incidents

Concerns grow over the high number of worker deaths

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Backovers 500 -- used for June 2012 feature

Communication among all workers

Developing an internal traffic control plan is a good first step, but the plan has to be communicated to all workers and supervisors. “It means taking the information that the foreman has about how he’s going to run the operation and providing it through a communication mechanism onsite,” Fosbroke said.

Any time the operation changes – such as redirecting trucks – new hazards are created. Information about operational changes needs to be communicated to all affected crew members – including drivers and equipment operators.

Other information that needs to be communicated to help reduce back-over fatalities and injuries includes the use of spotters, according to Fosbroke. Spotters can help equipment operators navigate blind spots and back the vehicle up safely, he noted.

The vehicle operator should maintain constant communication – either with standardized hand signals or through a radio – with the spotter.

Developments in technology are allowing for easier communication between on-foot workers and equipment operators. The use of reverse cameras, radar, proximity alarms and other devices can help alert drivers when a worker may be in the vehicle’s path.

Training workers

Training to help prevent back-over incidents has to be developed for specific audiences, according to Fosbroke, who broke down training into three categories:

  • Management – Training should focus on the importance of safe backing operations, what can be done to minimize the hazard and why doing so is important.
  • Supervisor – For employees such as foremen and site supervisors, training should focus on procedures, such as how to develop an internal traffic control plan.
  • Employees – Both equipment operators and on-foot employees should receive training that includes hazard awareness and recognition.

Specifically, vehicle drivers should be trained to stop immediately when they lose sight of their spotter. Although most workers are killed in backing operations when no spotter is present, there have been some cases where the spotter was backed over after the driver lost sight of him or her.

Workers should be trained about blind spots, and drivers taught how to park without needing to back up. One company Fosbroke spoke with invited ground workers to climb into the equipment and experience the blind spots from the operator’s point of view.

Regulations

Even though employers can take certain actions to help keep workers safer around backing vehicles, the number of deaths indicates to some experts that more should be done.

“Given the number of fatalities, it seems like what’s in place may not be working,” Stribling said.

Stribling and Hawkins are co-chairs of the backing operations workgroup within OSHA’s Advisory Committee on Construction Safety and Health. The group is exploring the need for a backing operations standard and what it might encompass.

In Withrow’s opinion, any national standard should be modeled after Virginia’s regulation.

Virginia, an OSHA State Plan state, can issue regulations that are more stringent than federal rules. In 2009, it became the second State Plan state (after Washington) to implement a standard regulating workplace backing procedures.

Prior to the rule taking effect, Virginia averaged two fatalities a year due to backing operations. After the rule’s promulgation, between Sept. 18, 2009, and Nov. 23, 2011, the state had only two deaths – a 50 percent reduction. Most notably, no construction industry deaths occurred in that time period, representing a sharp decline for an industry that until recently had the most annual back-over deaths in Virginia.

“I think their statistics speak for themselves,” Stribling said.

But leaving back-over rulemaking to the states should not be an option, Withrow asserted, as the states are limited in how stringent their regulations can be. For instance, Virginia could not have issued a standard requiring vehicles or equipment to be radar-equipped without showing compelling local conditions for such a requirement. As backing operations are not particularly more hazardous in any one state over another, individual states could not push for such a requirement – but federal OSHA could.

Regardless of what action OSHA may or may not take, things are improving. Partnerships between labor and research organizations are working to help prevent back-over deaths, and Fosbroke hopes advancements can be made in protecting workers from onsite equipment as well as passing vehicles.

“Things have definitely gotten better,” he said of worker awareness of backing operations inside a work zone. “That being said, we’re still running over too many workers.”