Every year, dozens of construction workers are injured and killed when a dump truck or another vehicle backs over them. In 2011 alone, 70 people died this way.
Preventing backovers involves instituting enough fail-safes to combat many different potential causes, including human error.
It’s a given that construction vehicles should have backup warning systems like flashing lights and the familiar "beep beep beep" alarms — but they aren’t enough, especially since alarm sounds can be drowned out by other noises.
Employers should create a one-way primary travel path through the project that encourages forward traffic flow. Providing a separate pedestrian route for workers is smart, but erecting barriers or placing cones, barrels or barricades around active work areas is a must.
Workers should be reminded daily to stay visible, alert and out of the way. They should also be trained on vehicle blind spots so they know to avoid them. Letting them sit in the driver’s seat to observe the blind spots for themselves can help. And of course they should wear high visibility clothing with reflective tape.
Construction companies can reduce the chance of workers wandering into an operator’s blind spot — easy to do when multiple vehicles are operating within the limited space of a job site — by instituting a spotter program. Spotters typically maintain electronic communication with operators at all times and are trained on a set of hand signals, which they should review regularly.
Spotters themselves are at risk of backovers — they can be run over by one vehicle while spotting another. They, too, should wear high-visibility clothing. They shouldn’t be allowed a cellphone or any other electronic device that isn’t meant for communication with the operator, or be assigned any other tasks that could distract them from their primary one.
In addition to standard warning systems, it's a good idea to mount panorama and blind-spot mirrors on vehicles and add a radar or sonar proximity warning system. A good rule of thumb when it comes to safety add-ons is that there's no such thing as overkill.
Just because the system works one day doesn't mean it will work the next. Operators should check the safety features on their vehicles, including alarms and mirrors, before they fire up the engine for the day, and ideally before each session.
Backovers happen in the blink of an eye. Don’t let tragedies happen from an incident workers literally didn’t see coming.
Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.