Toolbox Talk: Now you see him, now you don’t!

Being accidentally run or backed over by heavy equipment is a leading cause of injuries and fatalities in work zones. So much so that each month of every year, at least one worker is killed, and many more are injured by being backed over or struck by a construction vehicle. Back in 2008, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry was already two years into crafting a regulation to help prevent workers from being struck by vehicles traveling in reverse. This focus was prompted by the high number of back-over related deaths recorded from 1992 to April 2008 – over 30 deaths, nine of which occurred between 2005 and 2007. According to the latest available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual number of back-over related occupational fatalities nationwide has continued to escalate steadily each year, increasing incrementally from 2012 to 2015 (57, 67, 57, and 64, respectively) after reaching 81 in 2011.


A back over is a type of struck-by incident. Struck-by incidents contributed to 804 construction worker fatalities from 2011 to 2015.

  • 57 percent of the struck-by vehicle fatalities occurred in work zones.
  • 114 deaths were the result of being struck by passenger vehicles, and 112 workers died after being struck by trucks.
  • Highway, street and bridge workers accounted for 264 of the 804 construction fatalities during the period.
  • Construction workers 65 and older experienced the highest rate of struck-by fatalities.
  • Highway maintenance workers, power line installers, and excavating or loading machine operators experienced the most struck-by fatalities.

Unfortunately, OSHA’s current standards for alarms on motor vehicles (1926.601) requires only a backup alarm “audible above the surrounding noise level” on any vehicle with “an obstructed view to the rear.” If no backup alarm meets the requirement, the driver must not travel in reverse until an observer gives the go-ahead. No requirements exist for back-up alarms on powered industrial trucks, but if a vehicle has a backup alarm already installed, it cannot be removed, as mandated by OSHA’s Powered Industrial Trucks Standard (1910.178).

So, what can organizations and employees do until a federal regulation is enacted, if ever? A series of best practices can be employed, experts say, because the ubiquitous backup alarms can get tuned out by workers or drowned out by a noisy job site. Employees should be continuously reminded of the following MUST DO’s when backing any piece of equipment in a work zone:

Before Driving:

  • Ensure that mirrors are clean and properly positioned.
  • Verify that the backup alarm on the machine is working properly.
  • AVOID backing whenever possible.
  • Park all machines in a way that you can pull in and out in a forward motion.

When Backing Up:

  • Use the backup alarm or sound the horn twice before reversing.
  • Use a spotter and make sure that you both understand the backing hand signals.
  • Do not back more than 50 feet before stopping to check that the area is still clear.

When Working Around Heavy Equipment:

  • STAY ALERT. Keep radios or other audible distractors turned off.
  • Do not stand in shadows or areas where drivers may not see you. Take care also not to stray into traffic or designated truck delivery lanes should any exist.
  • Do not stand or walk in front of or behind equipment unless its operator signals that it is safe to do so.
  • Do not ignore horns and backup alarms.
  • Wear appropriate PPE, such as high visibility vests and reflective headwear.

“Struck-by” deaths are preventable. With some minor training, the proper personal protective equipment, well-established safety protocols, unwavering focus and attention and good communication, these devastating accidents can be avoided so that all workers can safely return home to their families at the end of the shift.

Center for Construction Research & Training
Safety & Health Magazine