Preventing Backovers: Advice For Road Construction Site Managers

Between 2008 and 2009, 286 people in Australia died while carrying out work activities, and 100 of those employees died from a road-related accident. Road construction workers face a lot of serious hazards while working on highways, particularly during short-term projects on short stretches of road. A backover occurs when a vehicle or other mobile equipment runs over a road worker, and contractors and employers must take all possible precautions to prevent these accidents. If you're responsible for a road construction site, learn more about the different measures you can take to prevent backovers, and what you need to do to keep workers safe.

Help drivers cope with blind spots

Construction vehicle drivers must cope with blind spots that can make it impossible to see road workers. These blind spots can vary significantly from one vehicle to another. For example, the blind spot for a backhoe loader is very different to the visibility that a hydraulic excavator driver will have. Site owners should make sure that only qualified drivers handle these vehicles, and it's important to remind all employees about the different blind spots.

In the United States, the CDC publishes a range of blind spot diagrams for different construction vehicles. Many Australian construction sites use these (or similar) vehicles and these simple diagrams are a useful way to remind drivers about blind spots. Rear-view cameras can also improve visibility. New technology used in the Australian mining industry can now perfectly merge multiple images to give drivers a 360-degree view.

Implement an internal traffic control plan

An internal traffic control plan (ITCP) can help a project manager co-ordinate construction vehicles, equipment and workers in a way that promotes safer working. An effective ITCP can also help cut the risk of backovers, as good planning stops many unnecessary vehicle movements. An ITCP looks for opportunities to minimise traffic movement across the site, and will also often allocate high-risk zones where drivers must not reverse their vehicles under normal circumstances.

Hire spotters

A spotter is an employee in high-visibility clothing who directs people and drivers working near each other to cut the risk of backover accidents. Even spotters can suffer backover injuries, so excellent training is essential. When training spotters and drivers to work together you should:

  • Make sure there is an agreed set of simple spotting signals that everyone learns and understands
  • Teach spotters to have visual contact with drivers when they are backing up a vehicle
  • Train drivers to stop their vehicles as soon as they can no longer see the spotter
  • Ban the use of mobile phones, headphones and any other device that could distract a spotter

Spotters can manage high-risk areas of a construction site for fixed periods, but these employees are not a substitute for other safety measures. 

Install proximity detection systems

Proximity detection systems use several methods to detect and alert construction drivers to potential obstacles in their blind spots. Radar systems emit signals that will bounce off an object and hit a receiver. This receiver then sends an audio or visual warning to the driver. Ultrasonic systems work in a similar way, using high-frequency sound waves to send the driver a warning.

It's important to regularly test proximity detection systems, to make sure they do not detect harmless or non-obstructive objects. If the system isn't working effectively, drivers may not receive vital warnings, or may start to ignore warnings that they don't think relate to a genuine hazard. It's also important to remember that accidents can still occur, especially if the driver doesn't have enough time to react to the warning. For this reason, it can be helpful to have truck-mounted attenuators on all construction vehicles, to mitigate the impact of an accidental crash.

Tag-based systems use an electromagnetic field to detect devices that road workers wear while working near the vehicle. With these systems, you can change the safety settings to automatically shut down the vehicle as soon as it detects one of the tags. This approach is more effective than other proximity detection systems, which still rely on rapid driver reactions.

Road construction workers face many hazards, and reversing vehicles can seriously injure or kill employees. Protect your workers and set up a work health and safety plan that mitigates the risk of backover deaths or injuries.