Improve Awareness to Avoid Backovers and Struck-Bys
Sonetics | November 11, 2016

Backover and struck-by incidents are a heavy equipment operator’s biggest fear. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 443 workers were killed as a result of a struck-by or backover incident between 2003 and 2010.

They can happen any place at any time, which is why they’re so difficult to prevent.

Contributing factors to backover and struck-by incidents include:

  • Poor visibility when working at night or in bad weather;
  • Untrained workers getting caught in blind spots, wearing the wrong (or no) PPE, or engaging in horseplay;
  • Fatigue distracting workers or heavy equipment operators in a dangerous work zone.

These incidents also traumatize the heavy equipment operators who are in the driver’s seat. Even if an operator is found to have no responsibility for an incident, the lingering guilt leads to added stress, self-doubt and possibly other mistakes.

Preventing backover and struck-by incidents starts with optimizing situational awareness and committing to a safety culture.

Struck-By Awareness: Expose Blind Spots

How do you increase awareness for all of your employees? Plan for the worst-case scenario. For heavy equipment operators, it’s a matter of exposing blind spots.

  • Install backup cameras in all heavy equipment;
  • Implement internal traffic control plans (ITCPs) to coordinate flow of equipment and workers in a work zone;
  • Protect hearing and ensure clear communication among all workers;
  • Install proximity sensors on rolling equipment to warn workers that get too close.

All workers on a project need increased struck-by awareness, not just the heavy equipment operators. If you’re the project manager, then you’re responsible for training, enforcing safety guidelines and making sure workers have appropriate PPE. If you don’t enforce those zero-tolerance policies, then the eventual incident investigation will examine the operator, the victim and you as the party ultimately responsible for setting up the work site.

The goal is to get clear visibility into all of your blind spots. Can’t afford to retrofit all of your older equipment with backup cameras? Then make sure you compensate with specific communications strategies, traffic plans, alarms and training.

Heavy Equipment Operators Rely on Safety Culture

The only way to gain traction with a proactive safety plan is to go all-in on safety culture. Only when safety is as automatic as checking the fuel gauge at the start of a shift will you have total buy-in from all workers.

Heavy equipment operators are trained and licensed to know the safety guidelines pertinent to their piece of iron. But operators don’t work in a vacuum. They work in lockstep with spotters, load handlers, flaggers and other workers on site. If those other workers don’t know the safety rules about working around heavy equipment, then an operator has to compensate for their lack of knowledge. So in addition to being a safety hazard, untrained workers can also slow down productivity and cause additional stress to operators.

The Financial Value of Safety

Without a safety culture, you’re endangering your business as well as your workers. Struck-by incidents caused 8.4 percent of all construction fatalities in 2014, according to OSHA. Struck-by and struck-against injuries in all industries amounted to $7.16 billion in workers compensation costs, according to the 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

The flip side of the cost coin is revenue. According to a recent Dodge Data & Analytics SmartMarket study, “Contractors who prioritized safety also saw greater project ROI (75%), and better employee retention rates (79%) and were able to attract the most employees (67%).” Contractors rated as less safety conscious reported only 38% ROI.

Other savings may be available if you have a safety program that’s strong enough to earn a favorable insurance rating. According to Herb Ward, safety director at the Associated Builders and Contractors Mississippi Chapter, “The savings can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Safety pays.”

Preventing Backovers Using Improved Communication

Blind spots don’t necessarily need to be visually exposed. Even if they are an operator can’t see everywhere all of the time.

Many heavy equipment operators use two-way radios to maintain audio contact with other crewmembers. But in emergency situations and when conducting maneuvers that require real-time interaction two-way radios can fail. Two-ways do work well when operators need to contact workers more than 1,600 feet away, but those workers aren’t in danger of being struck by or backed over by heavy equipment. Operators have the luxury of time to engage push-to-talk (PTT), risk signal interference or channel lockout, and ask for repeat communications before copying.

Supplementing mirrors, spotters, backup cameras and proximity alarms with hands-free real-time communication improves awareness for operators and other workers in close proximity. Sonetics wireless headset systems allow operators to talk through every maneuver and be heard by every worker connected to the system through DECT7 wireless. They also allow workers to alert operators about an urgent situation even if the operator is talking. For example, if a worker is signaling a dump truck operator and accidentally trips, then the signaler can shout at the operator to stop before getting backed over. Without Sonetics headsets, the signaler’s shout may not be heard due to machine noise, distance or the operator sitting in an air-conditioned cab with the windows rolled up.

Preventing struck-by and backover incidents is about protecting your operators as much as the crew working around heavy equipment. Being proactive with solutions such as Sonetics wireless headsets shows your commitment to safety and to leave no worker isolated in a blind spot.