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Don’t Rely on Backup Alarms to Stop Backovers

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

A co-worker being seriously injured or killed on the job from a backover is a preventable tragedy. However, backing construction vehicles were responsible for killing 24 construction workers and injuring 50 more at U.S. worksites in 2016.

“When used in combination with LIUNA members who have been trained as spotters, technologies like backup alarms and cameras can help stop backover incidents,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “But even more can and should be done, such as the use of internal traffic control plans. These vital programs help separate workers on foot from construction vehicles and set rules for backing construction equipment on highway work zones and other sites.”

What Is an Internal Traffic Control Plan?

Internal Traffic Control Plans (ITCPs) can protect workers from being struck by construction vehicles by establishing “driving zones” with specified areas for access and egress. These defined traffic routes can minimize the need for vehicles to back up. This is important because nearby construction workers are at risk for serious injury every time a piece of heavy equipment is put in reverse. A well-designed and enforced ITCP helps ensure that all workers on foot are aware of driving zones and also establishes a process to alert them when vehicles will be backing. Construction sites are fluid environments and an effective ITCP must be updated as projects progress.

NIOSH recommendations for implementing an effective ITCP include:

  • Designing worksites to minimize or eliminate the need for backing vehicles and equipment
  • Using spotters when backing around workers is necessary
  • Operating procedures that list best practices to follow when working near vehicles and other equipment, including the use of:
  • Barrels, barricades and cones
  • Retro-reflective devices to guide vehicles and equipment
  • Signs informing workers where it’s safe to walk
  • Safety procedures for working at night with backing equipment, including requiring ANSI Class 3 high-visibility safety apparel for workers

Why Aren’t Backup Alarms and Spotters Enough?

Backup alarms are important safety features, but they can be hard to hear above the noise of a construction site or if a worker is wearing hearing protection like ear plugs or ear muffs. They also don’t protect against blind spots, which are notorious in large construction vehicles. Blind spots are a major factor in incidents involving construction equipment striking a worker. In highway construction, blind spots are responsible for about 22 worker deaths every year.

A view in the mirror or over the shoulder may appear unobstructed, but it’s not a guarantee that it’s safe to back up. When the cab of a dump truck is situated eight to 12 feet above the ground, it can be difficult for the driver to see a worker walking or standing behind the vehicle. Trained spotters using agreed upon hand signals and wearing reflective vests can help, but their close proximity to backing equipment puts them at risk.

Can Rearview Cameras Help?

Rearview cameras can make a difference and can be retrofitted to construction equipment. As these devices become more cost-efficient, it’s possible their use in construction will increase and eventually become mandatory, as it is for cars, buses and trucks manufactured after May 1, 2018. There is no silver bullet, but the construction industry can get there through proper planning, work zone setup, best practices like ITCPs and better technologies.

The LHSFNA’s Internal Traffic Control Plans pamphlet and our Highway Work Zone Safety Checklist can help keep Laborers safe when working around construction equipment. You can also order the Roadway Safety Program, which was developed in partnership with the LIUNA Training and Education Fund, the American Road & Transportation Builders’ Association (ARTBA), the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) and other construction-focused organizations. The Roadway Safety Program addresses a variety of hazards including Runovers/Backovers, Flagger Safety and Nightwork. Order these and other health and safety materials by going to our website and clicking on Publications.

The LHSFNA’s Occupational Safety and Health Division can also offer guidance and help you develop an ITCP by coming out for an onsite visit. For more information, call 202-628-5465.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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