Jobsites are crowded at many stages of construction. Vehicles of all types are moving forward, standing, or reversing among other vehicles and pedestrian workers. Warning devices, usually audible, are often misunderstood or confused with the normal sounds of the job. What measures can be—and must be—taken to prevent injury and fatal accidents in this environment?

The U.S. Dept. of Labor’s OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Admin.), has mandated to find answers to such questions, having explored the issue at length and some of its findings are creating changes in the industry.

In the residential construction industry, backover-incidents are a problem particularly with delivery trucks and concrete trucks. These sites are in a constant state of change and people are often on site who are not construction workers, such as food truck drivers, kids from the neighborhood, real estate agents, and their clients, and the curious public. Residential construction accounts for 1.6% of backover-fatalities. A major concern in this scenario is that a dynamic jobsite is often where equipment breaks down more often and has typically lower technology present to protect workers and others onsite.

Residential construction isn’t the only area of concern. Backovers are a big cause of injuries and fatalities in the road building industry, too. Ready-mixed concrete trucks are required to back up many times every day, and backover-hazards are No. 1 in terms of accidents. For every 100 ready-mixed trucks, there are 11 backover-accidents per year. Independent contractors often provide dump trucks and their drivers which can mean having adequate control over these drivers and vehicles is difficult.

On all construction sites, the general contractor may use its own trucks first, but may need to use a subcontractor, who may hire another subcontractor. The second and third tiers can cause real problems as some of these subcontractors use equipment that is not safe. Small, independent companies often have poorly maintained, older vehicles and no developed training programs. The general contractor needs requirements to regulate independents that are coming onto a jobsite.

One problem is blind spots, and the issue of how to provide drivers with adequate vision in these areas needs to be addressed. How do you control and train an independent contractor, whose job it is to deliver as many loads as quickly as possible? Many small companies can be picking up at a common plant or pickup area and this may be a good location to inform drivers of any required practices or controls to minimize backover-hazards.

What is the answer to backing accidents? OSHA proposes the ANSI Z10 hierarchical approach as a common-sense way to prevent backover-injuries and fatalities. While no one approach will fit all situations, a combination of controls can be much more effective. The hierarchical approach involves first attempting to engineer out the need to backup or minimizing backing up with internal traffic control plans. The approach also incorporates the use of technology when necessary, and supplements efforts with other work practices, such as signs, labels, training, highly visible vests, speed limits, and other practices.

Construction sites will often have traffic control plans that manage the ways that workers enter and exit the site. These plans may be communicated verbally by the site supervisor to delivery truck operators entering the site. A written plan would not be as useful, since it would most likely be placed on a shelf in the trailer.

Many small companies do not have the resources to hire safety professionals to write traffic control plans or develop complex safety plans; therefore, the best that they can do is provide spotters. Workers on residential construction sites typically use spotters when backing vehicles, since the worksite changes so often and the spotter and operator can adapt to changing scenarios better than technology.

Employers need to understand the risks specific to them. One suggestion is examining incidents that occur and looking at upstream indicators, such as near misses. For every incident that occurs, there are usually numerous minor incidents and injuries. These minor incidents should become the template employers use to develop their program.

No industry wants to wait 10 years for OSHA to develop a well-crafted rule. Industry does not like performance-based standards that leave employers on their own, but also does not like overly prescriptive standards. The ideal regulatory approach is to determine the behaviors that need to be modified or emulated on worksites and then allow the industry to come up with ways to change these behaviors.

Contractors already have an obligation to assess hazards and address them on sites, but backover deaths still occur. Small employers do not want performance-based standards, they want to know what exactly they need to do to be in compliance with the law. How are your internal rules and communications preventing—or causing—backing incidents?

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