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Backovers Subject of OSHA Inquiry, LHSFNA Comment

Hoping OSHA will tackle a persistent but highly preventable source of work zone fatalities, the LHSFNA responded in June to the agency’s request for information on how best to prevent backover incidents. After a 30-day extension to allow additional comment, OSHA closed its docket on July 27 and will now review responses and decide if it will develop an updated work zone safety standard.

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LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan

“Backovers are a major problem for our members because they are the boots on the ground in highway construction,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “Amid the noise and traffic of a work zone, it is all too common that workers on foot are killed by backing dump trucks and other machinery.”

More Laborers are killed by equipment inside work zones than by drivers who crash into work zones from outside. Inside the zone, the main culprits are dump trucks because the wide bins behind their cabs create huge blind spots for backing truck drivers.

O’Sullivan points out that two states, Washington and Virginia, have taken action in recent years to address the problem. He also notes that steadily dropping prices make an array of technological solutions financially feasible. “OSHA,” he says, “could make a big difference for highway workers if it would update its standard and require effective, uniform rules across the country.”

In the Fund’s comments, Scott Schneider, the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health, relied on the hierarchy of controls to prioritize his recommendations. Under the hierarchy, elimination of (or substitution for) hazards is the first goal, followed by use of engineering controls, changes in work practices and, finally, use of personal protective equipment. The Fund recommends:

Internal Traffic Control Plans (ITCP)

The first goal should be to reduce backing to a minimum. This can be accomplished through instituting an ITCP requirement. ITCPs minimize backing risks within a work zone through one-way lanes, pedestrian zones and a system to communicate and enforce these and other traffic patterns. Introduced 15 years ago, ITCPs are increasingly common in the field.


Where backing cannot be eliminated, new technology can help. Research shows that backup video and radar systems alert drivers to pedestrians behind their vehicles. Meanwhile, the cost of video cameras and monitors has dropped, and wireless technology makes their use even more feasible. Many companies already install such technology on their vehicles and have had good experience with it.


Technology is not infallible. Spotters are trained to detect hazardous situations and warn drivers to stop before tragedy strikes. They have a proven track record in preventing backovers and should be required where technological remedies are not in use. Spotter and operator training, including standardized hand signals, are essential to effective coordination and must be required.

Blind Spot Warning Signs

Blind spot diagrams have been developed and used by NIOSH to warn drivers and pedestrian workers of backover dangers. They should be posted in the cab, on both sides of a vehicle and on its back.

Backup Alarms

For decades, backup alarms have been used to prevent backovers. Alone, they are not sufficient, but as a supplement to other technology and techniques, they have a role to play. However, they must be louder than ambient noise or, preferably, produce a white noise. Also, they should be supplemented with visual alarms for workers who may be hard of hearing or wearing hearing protection.

High Visibility Clothing

One way to avoid backovers is to make pedestrian workers more visible. According to the FHWA’s Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices, highway workers must wear high visibility clothing. A minimum of Class II clothing should be required for those on foot, and Class III clothing should be required for night operations and any operations (e.g., rain or fog) where visibility is low.

Vehicle Operation

How vehicles are operated is also a critical component of backover prevention. Backing speed limits should be enforced, and vehicles must cease operations whenever the camera/radar system is not working, the backup alarm is not working, the spotter is not visible or anyone on the site tells the operator to stop.

Submitted comments can be viewed at Docket Folder OSHA-2010-0059.

[Steve Clark]

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