More than a quarter of all large vehicle accidents can be attributed to backing those vehicles up. Over the past decade, hundreds of workers have lost their lives in back-over incidents, and thousands more have been injured.
In the book Risk Analysis and Security Countermeasure Selection, Second Edition, by Thomas Norman, the author suggests that there are two main ways to minimize risk: Eliminate or mitigate the hazard so the accident cannot occur; or modify the behavior of the person or machine initiating the triggering event so that the accident will not occur.
Limiting the backing up of vehicles when personnel and other vehicles are present is an example of mitigating the risk of back-overs. Adding spotters who have been trained in spotting and trained with the drivers in the use of spotting techniques is an example of modifying the behavior of the triggering event. Both can help mitigate the risk of worker injury.
The use of spotters has been proven to reduce back-up accidents. But before spotters can be safely used, there are some things to consider.
- Spotters and drivers must agree on communication via voice and hand signals before the backing begins.
- Spotters must be visible and maintain contact with the driver.
- If contact is lost with the spotter, the driver must stop immediately.
- Spotters should never have additional duties while they are spotting.
- There should never be more than one spotter per vehicle to avoid confusion.
Spotters should be designated and trained fully. Part of the training should include how to analyze an area before commencing back-up. If the area is near where workers frequent, it’s wise to add additional personnel to stop pedestrian traffic. But at the very least, the spotter should know what to look for, such as toilets, food carts, water coolers and other places employees would walk to and from regularly.
Spotters should also learn to watch for signs of worker distraction, which can include plugging ears or looking to the ground. This could mean that a worker is on the phone, listening to music or concentrating on another personal task. Conversely, workers who are concentrating on repairs aren’t usually paying attention to things going on around them. During shift changes, backing up vehicles should be highly discouraged, but, if it cannot be avoided, spotters should be extra diligent.
When one vehicle uses a spotter, ensure all other vehicles use spotters at that time too. If they don’t, the spotter becomes a target for other moving vehicles. Put another way, be sure you have someone is spotting the spotter.
The majority of modern vehicles are equipped with back-up cameras. The cameras give the operator a view of the areas near the vehicle’s rear. If vehicles do not come standard with the cameras, they can be purchased as after-market equipment.
Larger vehicles may require multiple cameras. Many vehicles also come equipped with back-up sensors or “proximity detection systems.” More advanced systems have devices on the vehicle that recognize sensors worn by personnel. In this case, the vehicle will automatically stop as well as warning the personnel if someone with a sensor gets within a certain range of the vehicle path.
Remember, cameras can increase safety, but they’re not replacements for human spotters. Further, even the best camera configuration is not going to fully eliminate blind spots. You cannot hope to see all areas of the vehicle at once. Operators who use back-up cameras shouldn’t rely too heavily on them and lose sight of their spotter.
Spotters must also be aware of changing situations and be ready to adapt. If new equipment has been added to the worksite, they may have to guide the vehicle through a different path. When new safety equipment, docks, ramps, or other pieces are added, there will be a learning curve for both the spotter and the operator. In these situations, it pays to practice when there are no personnel around, if possible.
One of the greatest hazards is a change to a long-standing traffic control plan. When employees become used to a certain traffic flow, they can become complacent in areas where they’re certain they will not encounter vehicles. When a vehicle control plan is changed, ensure all employees are thoroughly briefed and spotters are on the alert.
While OSHA, MSHA and other oversight organizations have strict rules on workplace safety, your goal should never be to meet their standards. It should be to do whatever it takes to keep your employees safe. Effective truck spotting is one of the best methods to reduce back-overs.
When it comes to keeping the rest of your worksite safe, there is no substitute to partnering with an established safety solution team. They can work with you to overcome all of your safety risks, including flatbed fall protection and truck loading racks, gangways and loading ramps, harness systems and custom loading skids.