Stakeholders Suggest Holistic Approach to Address Backovers

Camera and sensor technologies, policies, certified spotters, training programs, a companywide ban on cell phone use – the panel of stakeholders at a Feb. 5 OSHA meeting in Arlington, Texas suggested all of these.

An OSHA stakeholder meeting Feb. 5 at the University of Texas at Arlington gave about a dozen stakeholders the opportunity to share their best practices for preventing vehicle backover injuries and fatalities. OSHA in December 2012 announced it would hold this and an earlier meeting to evaluate backover risks in various industries and how effective technologies and other methods are at stopping them.

The stakeholder participants included representatives from construction, insurance, fire service, recycling, truck manufacturing, and transportation services companies, as well as Corey Heniser, vice president of sales at Brigade Electronics, which provides in-vehicle cameras, sensors, and other safety technologies. Dave Heidorn, government affairs director for the American Society of Safety Engineers, also participated.

There was general agreement that backovers are a significant challenge, and the injuries they cause are usually fatal to the person who is struck. "The biggest thing we see in backovers is the employee on the ground not being attentive to what's going on. It's hard to stay attentive when you're a spotter working behind these trucks ten hours a day," said Dean Bernal, vice president of safety and risk management for J.D. Abrams, a highway construction contractor based in Austin, Texas.

Scott Sullins, assistant vice president of safety in the Arlington office of Great West Casualty Company, which insures about 60,000 heavy trucks operated in 48 states, said his company's safety team members train truck drivers out in the field. Blind side backing into truck terminals is one problem they address, he said. "We have a lot of distracted drivers from the technologies they have in their trucks," Sullins said.

Chuck Crowell, International Standards & Regulations manager at truck and heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. in Trivoli, Ill., said his company uses a systems approach and tries to improve drivers' sight lines. "This is not just an issue here," Crowell said, explaining that backovers also are a problem in Britain, South Korea, Germany, and other countries.

Odean Slaton of ASSE said he works in pipeline construction, which involves lots of trucks. He suggested addressing the problem in several ways:

  • Certified, trained spotters working in pairs
  • Outfitting spotters differently from other construction workers on a site so drivers can identify them easily
  • Giving spotters air horns or other attention-getting devices to ensure they can get drivers' attention

"My point is, you've just got to be creative. There's not just one fix for all of this," Slaton said.

Michael Crucefix, assistant vice president of safety resources for Signal Administration, Inc. in Snellville, Ga., mentioned an incident at night when a truck struck and seriously injured two workers who later said they had heard and seen nothing before the impact. Crucefix said his company is testing the use of strobe lights beneath moving equipment so that movement at night will be more noticeable.

According to OSHA's announcement of the meetings, one OSHA database identified 358 fatal backovers from 2005 to 2010, with 142 of these occurring in the construction industry.

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