By Lucy Perry

Construction workers on the ground are some of the most vulnerable. Annually, struck-by accidents account for many construction-related fatalities. Falling objects, equipment crushes and rollovers are among the causes. Whether it’s road building, commercial construction or utility installation, visibility and attention are keys to crew safety on the job site.

OSHA is currently focusing on the “Fatal Four” leading causes of fatalities on the construction site and struck-by deaths are one of them. Falling materials and loads, equipment operator blind spots, an operator exiting equipment in gear or not setting the brakes or wheel chocks, equipment rollovers and equipment not locked out during maintenance are the top struck-by contributors.

“Construction is an inherently dangerous profession,” said Caterpillar dealer Cleveland Brothers. “From minor to severe injuries, the safety of your employees is critical. Practicing proper health and safety on the job site will do more than protect workers and the public. The right processes and procedures will also benefit your business by helping you.”

Safety With Integrity

Chris Galloway of US Hammer believes every decision you make on a job site, especially on the roadway, should be based on the question, “does this increase or lessen the integrity of our safety?” If you’re constantly asking this question, he said, then you’re already well on the way to sustaining a safe work environment.

“In the case of roadway construction, it’s that much more important to do everything you can to ensure the safety of your team because there are so many other factors you can’t easily control,” he said. “But most of all, don’t shy away from making long-term investments that will take some of the load off your crew. Working smarter is never a bad thing — it frees you up for more challenging tasks.”

And every decision that takes your team off the side of the road and lets them recharge should be seen as an achievement in your efforts to run a safe and thoughtful construction company.

Cleveland Brothers advises contractors to stay compliant.

“Safety is a requirement in construction,” said the company. “It’s enforced by OSHA. A proactive approach to safety will help you avoid fines and other penalties.”

Second, respond more quickly to incidents, which the company said, “can happen even in controlled environments.” Having processes established and safety equipment readily available helps workers more quickly respond to limit damage and injury.

Lastly, preserve your bottom line, urged Cleveland Brothers. “Construction accidents can cause costly damage to property and equipment. Creating and maintaining a safe work environment will help you avoid incidents, keeping profits higher and protecting your reputation.”

NIOSH suggests contractors develop, implement and enforce a comprehensive safety and training program in the workers’ primary language and at the appropriate literacy level.

The institute believes targeted training should focus on the operator’s visual limits of the specific equipment being used on the site and be provided to both equipment operators and any workers required to work on foot near the equipment blind areas.

NIOSH advises that standard operating procedures minimize exposure of workers on foot to moving construction vehicles and equipment. The SOP also should include daily pre-work safety meetings to discuss the work to be performed, safety hazards, safe work procedures as well as the method of communicating changes in the work plan.

It’s All in the Pre-Planning

Travelers Insurance comments that pre-planning and safe work practices can help contractors minimize injuries and fatalities associated with heavy equipment.

“While the best way to stay safe is to stay aware, contractors can reduce dangers by incorporating a few administrative controls on the job site,” according to Travelers. The company suggests contractors consider several measures in the pre-planning phase.

Besides hiring trained and certified equipment operators and spotters, contractors should provide training in heavy equipment hazard awareness and safe work practices.

A copy of and access to the operating manual for machinery to be used should be provided to the operator, advised Travelers.

A path site plan for vehicles, heavy trucks and deliveries should be developed to help avoid or limit vehicles and equipment backing up.

The Ohio Bureau of Workers Compensation suggested that a designated “competent person” on the job site conduct a daily briefing with all workers as to the location and expected work path and location of any piece of equipment.

The agency defines “competent person” as one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions that are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

Travelers advised setting up a limited-access zone or swing radius around heavy equipment. The Ohio BWC preaches creating an access zone that extends beyond the maximum rotation or swing radius of the equipment or beyond the area where loads will be carried or dumped.

The agency also suggested contractors place warning signs such as cones, signs and posts around equipment that swings or rotates, to warn workers of the potential hazard.

Provide equipment with ROPS and maintain all rigs in good operating condition, advised Travelers. And, before maintenance is performed on a machine, make sure lockout/tagout procedures are in place.

Provide a cab shield or canopy for work protection on top-loading vehicles and increase visibility and lighting for night work, said the company. NIOSH suggested also requiring high-visibility apparel for workers.

“Worker visibility and visual and verbal communication play an important role in ongoing safe operations,” said Travelers. “Blind spots can be a significant operator issue.”

A spotter, trained in hand signals, can help provide safety guidance and communication between the operator, workers and nearby pedestrians to compensate for blind spots on the job site, advised the company.

“Spotters should wear high-visibility clothing and stand clear of equipment so they are visible to the operator at all times,” it added. Ohio BWC urges spotters and operators to use communications equipment or agreed-upon hand signals.

Operators at the Ready

Operators can help reduce risk associated with heavy equipment through safe practices. Travelers urges contractors to make sure operators are familiar with both the rig and the operator’s manual for the machine.

At the start of each shift, operators should inspect the equipment including the brake system, headlights, taillights, brake lights, windshield wipers and audible warning devices, such as the horn and the back-up alarm.

All side and back mirrors should be adjusted to help compensate for blind spots, and the operator should ensure workers are clear of equipment before engaging it.

The operator should always acknowledge and allow safe passage to workers who alert him or her that they are approaching.

He or she should never drive in reverse gear with an obstructed rear view, advised Ohio BWC, unless the vehicle has an audible alarm or a spotter is in place. NIOSH urges contractors ensure that drivers only back up under the supervision of a spotter.

The operator should avoid operating equipment parallel to slopes or embankments and turn off the engine and engage brakes before leaving equipment.

When getting on and off the equipment, the operator should face it, maintaining three points of contact, said Travelers. He or she should always wear the seat belt and avoid overloading vehicles.

Can You See Me?

On the ground, workers also should be responsible for their own protection and well-being as they work. They should wear high-visibility clothing when working around heavy mobile equipment, according to the company.

Ground crew should avoid positioning themselves in a blind spot or riding on moving equipment; avoid setting up their work area near heavy mobile equipment; and avoid walking or working under a suspended load.

Ohio BWC suggests contractors train workers not to position themselves between mechanical equipment and a fixed object.

Make eye contact with and alert the operator — and ensure the operator sees you — before approaching a vehicle, urged both Travelers and Ohio BWC. And ride only in approved seats and wear a seat belt.

“Construction workers are around heavy equipment every day, and they can become accustomed to the presence of heavy equipment, not giving much thought to the risks. Taking some time to understand and follow safety rules — and staying alert while on the job — can help construction workers stay safe.”

Galloway, owner of US Hammer, believes that it’s the employer’s responsibility to provide the correct attire for the crew.

“With roadway projects, it’s most important to outfit your team with high visibility gear. That includes vests, jackets, coveralls, rainwear and harnesses.”

If a contractor is unsure of what to invest in, Galloway suggested he or she enlist the help of the ANSI Standard for High-Visibility Apparel (ANSI 107-1999). “Not all high-vis gear is created equal,” said Galloway.

“High visibility applications are diverse and contingent upon weather conditions, time-of-day, and many other factors,” he added. “Do your research and outfit your team with the appropriate attire based on where they’re working and the time of day. There is attire for daylight visibility as well as three separate classes of nighttime attire. Choose wisely and don’t leave your team exposed.”