Preventable or Not? – Excavator Bucket Hits Two People, Kills One

Safety Watch is an Equipment World feature that highlights a prior closed OSHA case and how the incident could have been prevented, to help improve jobsite safety. This story originally ran in August 2019.

The first day on any construction job is tough, but it shouldn’t have to be this tough.

The victim on this day was a 43-year-old construction laborer working for a masonry contractor. The job was to demolish and remove a concrete wheelchair ramp leading up to the side of a restaurant.

The victim had been standing on the ground helping to remove small pieces of debris as a compact excavator operator scooped up larger chunks.

When the bucket of the compact excavator got tangled up in the air lines of a compressor, the victim and a bystander, a woman who was a friend of the operator, stepped into the swing zone of the boom and bucket to see what the problem was. Hydraulic pressure on the boom, however, yanked the air hose free from its coupling at the compressor, and the boom and bucket jerked to the right. The operator overcompensated by pushing the controls to the left, which unfortunately caused the bucket to slam the victim and the woman against the side of the air compressor.

The victim suffered compression injuries but remained conscious. The woman suffered a laceration on her head but was not seriously harmed. After the excavator operator backed the bucket off, the coworker helped the victim to his truck and called 911.

Emergency medical responders transported both to the hospital, but while in transit, the victim became unresponsive and unstable. Emergency surgery was attempted, but the doctors could not stop the internal bleeding. He died the following morning about 10 hours after the incident.

According to state investigators, the general contractor did not have records showing evidence of a safety program or safety training.

How this accident could have been prevented:

  • Provide workers with safety training to help them recognize unsafe conditions and work practices.
  • Ensure that equipment operators have been trained in the safe operation of the equipment they are assigned to operate at the site.
  • Conduct daily jobsite hazard reviews before work starts in the morning. An analysis of this jobsite would have shown that the excavator and the compressor and its hoses should have been positioned out of each other’s way.
  • Take extra time to brief newcomers on the hazards of the jobsite. Experienced earthmoving crews know not to step into the swing radius of an excavator until the bucket is on the ground and the engine at idle. The victim and his coworker in this case obviously did not.     
Excavator bucket slams worker and bystander into air compressor
Hauling heavy equipment? Use this Best Practices checklist to ensure your load is secure

Editor's Note: This story was updated on June 6, 2023, with additional best practices for transporting heavy equipment, as well as inspection tips.

Moving heavy equipment, such as excavators, skid steers or bulldozers, safely is no small task. We’ve all seen or read stories when things did not go as planned — with disastrous results. Keeping the hauled equipment in place mitigates the risk during accidents, sudden stops, and high-speed turning maneuvers.

During the International Roadcheck in 2022, a three-day national inspection blitz of commercial vehicles, improper or inadequate cargo securement accounted for nearly 11% of all vehicle out-of-service violations.

Past International Roadcheck data also routinely found cargo securement violations in the top five vehicle out-of-service violations.

Inspectors have a host of descriptions that they can attach to these common cargo securement violations, which include:

  • 392.9A2: Failing To Secure Vehicle Equipment
  • 393.100A: Failing To Load/Equip Vehicle To Prevent Load Shifting/Falling
  • 393.100B: Leaking/Spilling/Blowing/Falling Cargo
  • 393.110B: Insufficient Tiedowns; Without Headerboard/Blocking
  • 392.9A Failing to Secure Load
  • 393.104F3: Loose/Unfastened Tiedown
  • 393.130: No/Improper Heavy Vehicle/Machine Securement
  • 393.104B: Damaged Securement System/Tiedowns
  • 392.9A1: Failing To Secure Cargo/§§ 393.100-393.136
  • 392.9: Driver Load Secure

Vehicles placed out of service during the roadside inspection impede revenue and productivity flow.

There are best practices to assist in the reduction of violations and to mitigate risk. But if in doubt, check the regulations found in §393.130 on the securement of heavy vehicles, equipment and machinery weighing 10,000 pounds or more, or the Canadian securement standards.

Heavy Equipment Load Securement Best Practices

Before loading

  • Verify that the transport vehicle’s gross vehicle weight rating and/or gross combination weight rating will not be exceeded.
  • Determine if permits for oversize or overwidth movements will be required. These loads may also require warning flags, lights and oversize load or wide load banners.
  • Are there any loading guidelines that need to be followed for the equipment, such as the use of locking pins, brakes, a particular transmission gear, outriggers, or deck wideners?
  • Determine where the equipment will be placed on the transport vehicle to balance the weight distribution and to secure the equipment properly.
  • Inspect the equipment’s securement points for wear and damage.
  • If there will be low friction between the equipment and the transport vehicle (such as metal crawler tracks on a metal deck), determine if friction devices are necessary.
  • If the equipment to be hauled has rubber tires, verify the tire pressure. Low pressure may result in the loosening of the tiedowns.
  • Remove any excessive aggregate, dirt, debris, or other substances that may fall or reduce friction during transit.

During loading

  • Do not operate or load equipment that you do not know how to operate, or operate safely.
  • When possible, place the equipment against a vehicle structure to help prevent forward movement – unless the weight distribution or securement considerations will not allow.
  • Be cautious when attaching securement devices over brake or hydraulic hoses or cylinders to avoid damage to those components.
  • Use edge protection to prevent damage to the tiedowns or to the equipment.
  • Whenever possible, use the equipment manufacturer’s designated attachment points and follow the manufacturer’s securement recommendations.
  • Each tiedown must be affixed as close as possible to the front and rear of the vehicle, or mounting points on the vehicle that have been specifically designed for that purpose.
  • Do not use any attachment point that is of questionable strength or suitability.
  • Chain is the preferred tiedown for heavy equipment and machinery. Make sure no links are stretched or have nicks in them.
  • Use direct tiedowns whenever possible, but keep in mind that direct tiedowns require the use of more tiedowns than when using indirect.
  • Use chocks, cradles, wedges, or other means placed against the wheels to prevent rolling of wheeled vehicles. These devices need their own securement.

After loading

  • Lower all accessory equipment and other movable parts such as hydraulic shovels, booms, plows, crane arms, etc., and secure them to the transport vehicle using tiedowns. Accessories equipped with locking pins or similar devices which prevent movement in any direction do not have to be secured with additional securement devices.
  • Hydraulics alone are not enough to secure accessory equipment.
  • If the equipment being transported has an articulation point, pivot, or hinge within its construction, lock or restrain the vehicle or equipment to prevent any articulation while in transit.
  • Accessories and other items that are not attached to the equipment must be secured to the transport vehicle following the general rules for cargo securement.
  • Confirm the actual height and width of the vehicle.
  • Complete all required enroute securement inspections.

Minimum tiedown requirements

  • If the loaded vehicle has crawler tracks or wheels, at least four tiedowns need to be used to prevent movement side-to-side, forward, rearward, and vertically.
  • An indirect tiedown routed through an anchor point and attached to both sides of the trailer is counted as a single tiedown.
  • A chain can be used as two tiedowns if properly attached to two anchor points using two binders, with slack in the middle of the chain, so that a break in the middle would not affect either tiedown.
  • The sum of the working load limits of the tiedowns must equal at least 50% of the weight of the cargo. If unsure of the cargo’s weight, additional tiedowns may be needed.
  • Attach tiedowns either:
    • As close as possible to the front and rear of the equipment, or
    • At the mounting points on the equipment designed for that purpose.

Stop and check the load securement 50 miles into the trip and every three hours or 150 miles after. Bumpy roads, acceleration and deceleration can cause loads to shift and tiedowns to become loose.

Following good and compliant securement processes will “keep things in place” not only while moving equipment from place to place, but also during an accident or other extreme maneuver.

Cargo Securement Inspection

During Roadcheck, inspectors will primarily conduct the Level I inspection, which is a comprehensive 37-step inspection of the vehicle and the driver’s operating credentials.

As part of the cargo securement inspection, inspectors will check the following:

  • Ensure spare tires, loads, cargo, tools and dunnage are secured and prevented from falling, blowing, spilling or leaking from the vehicle, or rolling or shifting in transit.
  • Verify there are enough tiedowns for the weight and length of the equipment being transported.
  • Check for faulty securement devices, such as loose, torn, damaged, bent, or knotted tiedowns.
  • Inspect anchor points and structures for damage.
  • Confirm commodity-specific cargo securement regulations are being followed.

In 2022, the top five states where securement violations made up the highest percentages of the state's total issued violations were: 1) Oregon,  2) Washington, 3) Tennessee, 4) Wyoming, and 5) North Carolina.

The 2023 International Roadcheck took place May 16 -18, with an emphasis on cargo securement and anti-lock braking systems. Results from the inspections will be released later this year. 

Semi hauling an excavator
Shock-Proof: How To Avoid Electrocution Accidents During Utility Installs

To download a PDF of this Safety Watch for sharing or printing, click here.

To download a PDF in Spanish, click here.

The accident

A crew was setting anchors in preparation for utility pole placement, using a boom truck with auger. Each anchor was attached to the auger using a coupling, which then used the auger motor to rotate the anchor and screw it into the ground. An anchor began to wobble during the setting process, and a crew member reached out to steady the anchor, unaware the extended boom had touched a 7,200-volt overhead power line.

The anchor was energized, electrocuting the worker. He was pronounced dead from electrocution at the hospital.

The bottom line

A post-accident investigation found the crew member was not a regular employee, but part of a work release program and had no formal training in the utility construction industry. The training was provided on the job, but as a member of the work release program, the worker was unavailable for regularly scheduled safety training meetings.

Additionally, the anchor was a replacement anchor that was more than 2 feet longer than the other anchors used on the project. When the crew tried to set the anchor, the additional length caused it to enter the ground at a difficult angle, creating the wobble that prompted the employee to try steadying the anchor, as well as creating a clearance issue with the overhead power line.

Unnecessary errors

Working around electricity without the proper training, as this crew member did, can be a fatal mistake. Without the proper training, you won’t have the necessary tools to recognize jobsite hazards. The error was compounded by using the longer anchor – material that a jobsite survey would not have accounted for.

Although the 6-foot anchors would have been approved by the competent person conducting the survey, once the 8-foot anchor was substituted, the survey would no longer have been applicable to this jobsite.

Safe steps

  • Training – Attend all training sessions and tailgate talks to make sure you’re ready to begin work.
  • Awareness – Ask what particular hazards the jobsite survey found, and what steps have been taken to mitigate the hazard. You should remain in a safe area while power is disconnected to the lines.
  • Assessment – Before you begin work, walk the site and look for electrical hazards such as overhead power lines. Even if power has been disconnected from the line, stay away. If you’re going to be working around them, always keep an eye on how far your equipment is from these lines, particularly when the boom is extended.

If substitute material is brought onto the jobsite, stop and assess what changes need to be made before continuing work. If there are clearance issues or other hazards created, don’t continue work until the danger is mitigated.

Drawing of a construction worker being electrocuted by a metal pole on a jobsite
Between a bucket and a hard place

The operator overcompensated by pushing the controls to the left, which unfortunately caused the bucket to slam the victim and the woman against the side of the air compressor…

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High-Pressure Blowout

The victim chocked the dump truck’s tires but did not inspect the tire for defects and began to inflate, standing directly in front of it. As the pressure increased, the sidewall failed…

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Worker injured by demolition robot

As he was moving the cable, he accidentally bumped the control panel against the machine. Since he had not put the machine into the emergency stop mode, it moved, pinning him bewteen the outrigger and a nearby wall…

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Fatal Decision

Fearing a violent rollover, the victim took off his seat belt and attempted to jump out of the cab to the high side, but somehow ended up below the machine…

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One lock, not enough

Investigators believe the victim raised the dump bed on the artic to access a grease zerk that was covered by the body of the bed when it was in the down position. During this procedure, the dump body should have been locked in the raised position…

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Gasoline Bomb

Fire is bad enough, but when you run away holding the fuel for the fire, it can only lead to bad consequences.

An automotive mechanic had spent much of a day removing and old fuel tank and installing a new one in a truck…

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The guillotine

When the worker checked, he found the victim sitting in the cab with his head caught in the lift arm boom linkage and hydraulic fluid leaking from the bucket cylinder hydraulic line.

Unseen, unheard

A skid steer operator yelled a warning to the dozer operator and the victim, but because of the noise of the jobsite, he was not heard by either.

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Screen Shot 2019-02-17 at 9.59.04 PM
A twisting tree, a twist of fate

The company ran a generic safety program by the book, but sometimes the book is not enough.

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Impaled on rebar

It was a high-rise job, using a skid steer loader to remove demolition debris on the 21st floor of a building. Above a worker, remote-controlled demolition machines punched holes through the floors to start the demolition process.

The worker was 41 years old and a 14-year veteran of the local Laborers International Union. He had been employed by the contractor for two months during the demolition of a 26-story apartment building.

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Screenshot_2018-10-14 EW1018_SafetyWatch_Eng (002) pdf
A Bump and a Fall

Accident investigators believe the victim fell from the open cab while the roller was in reverse. The seat belt was functional but unfastened and retracted. …

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Heat kills

By lunchtime the temperature had climbed to 97 degrees Fahrenheit, with a humidity reading of 74 percent.

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Screenshot_2018-08-20 EW0818SafetyWatch_English pdf
Brake Fail

The dozer rolled backward trapping the semi-truck driver between the truck’s front bumper and the rear of the dozer.

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In the ‘shadow’ of an unstable load

The driver was a 67-year-old retired coal miner, Vietnam War veteran and experienced truck driver. He worked in a semi-retired capacity for an equipment rental company and delivered heavy materials, components and machines to construction sites and sometimes helped with the erection of the components. The company was a small, family-owned firm with just five employees. It offered on-the-job and learn-as-you-go training, but had a limited safety program. …

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22 tons tip over on a tiny jack

Experience was no match for the weight of a dozer when a 70-year-old heavy-equipment mechanic was fatally crushed while lowering a 44,200-pound dozer off a bottle jack.

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Screenshot-2017-12-5 Equip1217_SW_Eng[1882] pdf
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