Although high-speed trucks, scrapers, and other heavy equipment can be a danger, equally dangerous is low-speed equipment backing up. (Photo courtesy of The HNTB Companies)

Don't Let Your Job Run You Down

There is flexibility in determining the best method to warn others working in the area of backing vehicles and equipment.

Historically, the heavy construction industry has always been an industry where more than your normal job hazards can exist. Working around earthmoving equipment such as dump trucks, scrapers, loaders, crawler or wheel tractors, bulldozers, off-highway trucks, graders, agricultural/industrial tractors, and similar equipment can be extremely hazardous, especially when such equipment is backing up.

Occupations that could be working around such equipment include laborers, equipment operators, iron workers, carpenters, surveyors, inspectors, project managers, and any other personnel in the area. The need to have ground workers near moving equipment to perform their work can be a problem.

Being struck by or caught in-between are two of the leading accidents associated with injuries and fatalities on construction sites. Struck by or caught in-between accidents also are associated with earthmoving equipment. According to the NIOSH document "Building Safer Highway Work Zones: Measures to Prevent Worker Injuries From Vehicles and Equipment," more than 100 workers are killed and more than 20,000 are injured each year in the highway and street construction industry. Vehicles and equipment operating in and around the work zone are involved in more than half of the worker fatalities in this industry. Also stated is that incidents involving backing vehicles were prominent among the worker-on-foot fatalities that occurred within the confines of the work zone.

Working in the Blind
Although high-speed trucks, scrapers, and other heavy equipment can be a danger, equally dangerous is low-speed equipment backing up. Construction equipment is typically large and presents large blind areas to the operator's vision when backing up equipment. Blind areas around construction equipment contribute to many accidents on job sites. Besides hitting fixed objects, there can be a variety of workers who are on foot that would be exposed to equipment backing up.

OSHA has standards and interpretations of the standards that are designed to reduce accidents from backing over workers at a construction job site. Companies and individuals who work around heavy construction equipment need to be aware of these standards. In reviewing various law firms' websites, many attorneys are aware of the standards. Although the OSHA standards concerning equipment backing are not new, unfortunately, violations of them can be seen at construction job sites.

Reviewing OSHA's Standards
Federal OSHA has two standards in its 29 CFR 1926 Subpart O, Motor Vehicles, Mechanized Equipment and Marine Operations, construction standards that deal with backing vehicles and equipment. The standards, 1926.601(b)(4) and 1926.602(a)(9), apply only to the motor vehicles and materials handling equipment used in construction operations. The standards read:

1926.601 Motor vehicles.
(b) General requirements.
(4) No employer shall use any motor vehicle equipment having an obstructed view to the rear unless:
(i) The vehicle has a reverse signal alarm audible above the surrounding noise level or
(ii) The vehicle is backed up only when an observer signals that it is safe to do so.

1926.602 Material handling equipment.
(a) Earthmoving equipment; General.
(9) Audible alarms.
(ii) No employer shall permit earthmoving or compacting equipment which has an obstructed view to the rear to be used in reverse gear unless the equipment has in operation a reverse signal alarm distinguishable from the surrounding noise level or an employee signals that it is safe to do so.

There is flexibility in determining the best method to warn others working in the area of backing vehicles and equipment. A back-up alarm or an observer must signal the operator that it is safe to proceed when an operator's view to the rear is obstructed. The alarm must be loud enough to be distinguishable from other sounds. Due to the loudness of back-up alarms, often the community where the work is being performed will complain about them. Sometimes you will also get resistance from construction workers about the loudness. Workers also can become lax or anesthetized from hearing a back-up alarm sounding off throughout the day.

OSHA's Interpretations
There are several OSHA Letters of Interpretation concerning back-up alarms that should be of particular interest to those who are involved with construction equipment. The following questions and responses are from two different letters from OSHA’s Directorate of Construction.

March 2, 2010
Re: Permissible methods of operating trucks in reverse on construction sites.

Question: Does 29 CFR 1926 Subpart O, permit an employer to use a rear-mount day/night camera system with in-cab monitoring of the truck's rear instead of a back-up alarm?
Answer: Where the back-up camera provides an "unobstructed view to the rear," that is, a clear view of the path the vehicle is to take, such that the driver can see if anyone is in that path or about to enter the danger area of that path, the requirement for an audible alarm or observer is not applicable. Here, the camera system provides the operator with a clear view to the rear and, thus, this back-up alarm requirement is not triggered.

Question: When operating a truck in reverse, is an employer that uses a radar/doppler or such motion sensing system in the rear of a truck -- which warns both the driver and employees working within the vicinity of the vehicle whenever the truck is in reverse -- in compliance with 29 CFR 1926 Subpart O?
Answer: The Standards provide employers with flexibility to use technology to meet this requirement. So long as the radar/doppler that you use provides adequate warning to workers in the path of the truck and to workers walking towards the path of the truck in time to avoid contact, you will be in compliance with this particular OSHA requirement.

Sept. 20, 2007
Re: Whether "discriminating [back-up] alarms" may be used to meet the requirements of 29 CFR 1926.602(a)(9)(ii).

Question: Does the use of a "discriminating alarm" meet the requirements set forth in 29 CFR 1926.602(a)(9)(ii)? In this case, "discriminating alarm" refers to a system that uses infrared light, ultrasonic waves, radar, or similar means to detect objects or persons at the rear of the equipment, and sounds an audible alarm when a person or object is detected.
Answer: A discriminating alarm as described above would fulfill the requirements of 1926.602(a)(9)(ii) as long as the alarm was consistently effective in detecting any employee who is in the path of the equipment and alerting the employee of the backing-up of the equipment. Alternatives to conventional back-up alarms may be used so long as they "provide adequate warning to workers in the path of the vehicle, and to workers walking towards the path of the vehicle in time to avoid contact." A discriminating alarm that detected such employees and gave warning to them in time to avoid contact with the vehicle would therefore meet the requirements of the Standard.

Preventing Equipment Backing Accidents
There are many proactive measures that can be taken to prevent vehicle and equipment backing accidents. Most of the measures might be considered common sense, but often they are not initiated until a serious accident occurs. Proactive measures that can prevent vehicle and equipment backing accidents are:

  • Provide and require safety tailgate meetings regularly to emphasize the seriousness of the hazard and to keep employee awareness up.
  • Have all personnel on the job site wearing reflective vests that adhere to the ANSI/ISEA 107-1999, American National Standard for High-Visibility Safety Apparel standard.
  • Coordinate job schedules to ensure only essential workers will be in the areas where equipment is operating.
  • Preplan where storage areas are to be.
  • Coordinate job conditions, such as haul roads.
  • Establish control points to limit access by the public to the job site.
  • Ensure compliance with OSHA standards for vehicle and equipment backing.

In regards to OSHA interpretations concerning vehicle and equipment backing exposures, modern technology can address the hazard by the use of a back-up camera or the use of a radar motion sensing system. The NIOSH Spokane Research Laboratory conducted tests concerning camera and sensor systems on various trucks used in road construction and maintenance. In summary, the following observations were made:

  • A camera system may be more appropriate than a sensor-based warning system (e.g., radar or sonar) in work zones that are crowded with equipment and workers where the alarms become a nuisance and are ignored.
  • A dual system of camera and sensor alarm has advantages, such as the sensor's providing an alarm that prompts the driver to check the video monitor.
  • False alarms on sensor-based systems from mud, dirt, or snow buildup need to be addressed.
  • Sensor-based alarms would need to be disabled on trucks pulling trailers.
  • Mounting position for sensors or cameras can be difficult on dump trucks.
  • Due to the harsher working conditions of construction equipment, using sensors or cameras on construction equipment can be more challenging.

The NOISH article on the above tests, "Evaluation of Devices to Prevent Construction Equipment Backing Incidents," by Todd M. Ruff, is a very good article to examine closely.

A combination of proactive measures can prevent backing accidents. The OSHA interpretation letters allow modern technology to address safety issues with a possible better solution than previous methods. An important point to remember about equipment back-up systems: OSHA does not approve equipment or processes. Equipment and processes may meet the requirements of the OSHA standards, but OSHA does not approve the equipment or processes. This article covers the significant points of OSHA’s standards concerning the backing of construction motor vehicles and materials handling equipment. The purpose of this article is not to provide any legal advice, but rather to help construction personnel better understand the hazards, prevent backing accidents, and know the relevant OSHA standards. For a more thorough look at the standards and the Letters of Interpretation, visit

Understanding the hazards, prevention methods, and the standards can help everyone in having a safer job site around construction equipment.

Since the submission of this article, OSHA has issued a "request for information" seeking comments on what it can do to prevent injuries and deaths associated with vehicle backovers. The rulemaking docket (OSHA-2010-0059, Preventing Backover Injuries and Fatalities) is available at It contains lots of additional information on the subject of vehicle backovers, which will be of interest for those who work with construction equipment.

1. Pratt, S.G., D.E. Fosbroke, and S.M. Marsh. (2001). Building Safer Highway Work Zones: Measures to Prevent Worker Injuries From Vehicles and Equipment. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2001-128
2. Ruff, Todd M. (2003). Evaluation of Systems to Monitor Blind Areas Behind Trucks Used in Road Construction and Maintenance: Phase 1. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2003-113 (NIOSH Report of Investigations 9660)

This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Dennis Burks, CSP, PE, is the Safety Director for The HNTB Companies, an architecture and engineering firm. He has a Master of Science degree in Industrial Safety and Education Specialist degree in Human Services - Public Services from the University of Central Missouri. He is an adjunct faculty member at the branch OSHA Training Institute Education Center in Kansas City, Mo. Dennis is a past local chapter president of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) and a recipient of the ASSE Region IV Regional Safety Professional of the Year award.

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