Back on Track: Preventing Backing Accidents

“I’m new to this and I’m having a really hard time backing up the trailer. It’s my kryptonite—I can’t seem to grasp it. I don’t know why but I’m almost to the point of walking away….”

This comment appeared in an online forum for professional drivers.

The writer is not alone. Many authorities agree that backing is one of most difficult skills for drivers to master, so it’s no wonder that backing accidents are common. Poles, parked vehicles, and other stationary objects are the usual victims, but in addition to causing costly damage, backing accidents frequently injure and even kill workers. One report by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Fatalities and Injuries in Motor Vehicle Backing Crashes, stated that backing accidents involving heavy trucks were responsible for approximately 56 fatalities and 1,000 incapacitating injuries per year in that country.

To avoid such accidents, site owners and managers need to work with site workers and drivers to identify hazards and ensure that everyone has best practices in place in conjunction with a site safety plan.

One way to prevent accidents is to design worksites to minimize the need for backing. Drive-through sites are ideal where space and workflow permit. Another way site managers can protect workers is to establish designated walking paths away from traffic areas, or rope off busy workspaces, separating pedestrians and vehicles. Clear signage will help to inform workers about safe pathways. Fleet owners can equip trucks with back-up alarms to alert those nearby of the hazard, but the alarm must be loud enough to be heard over a potentially noisy worksite and drivers must never rely on an alarm alone to ensure safe backing.

The basic problem for drivers when backing is that they simply cannot see where they are going. There are always blind spots around any vehicle and with large trucks, the difficulties multiply. If you’re a driver, always make sure the truck’s mirrors are clean and properly adjusted before attempting to back up. Cameras on the truck can also aid your vision.

However, even with mirrors and camera in use, there are places you may not be able to see from the cab, including:

Safety Handout available to order

  • directly behind the trailer,
  • above the ground, and
  • along the sides of the rig.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has created a fact sheet titled “Road Work – Backing Up Safely” that provides a number of tips. It suggests that drivers do a circle check before beginning to back, climbing down from the cab and walking around the vehicle to inspect under, around, and above it. The word “GOAL” is sometimes used as a quick reminder: Get Out And Look.

You should be watching for:

  • posts and poles,
  • buildings,
  • overhead objects, especially electrical/power lines,
  • other vehicles,
  • people in the area, and
  • anything else that might be in the way or move into the path of the backing truck.

When possible, work with a spotter or signaller who can see where you cannot. There is no substitute for the human eye and brain, and a spotter can be a great help. Both drivers and signallers need training in how to work together. If you’re in the situation of dealing with someone you haven’t worked with before, take the time to confirm the signals they will use. You need perfect communication here.

The CCOHS fact sheet recommends that drivers:

  • know the locations of blind spots,
  • know the meaning of the hand signals being used,
  • know how the vehicle behaves/moves when reversing,
  • stop when they have any doubt about the safety of a person or to an object,
  • always back up at a slow pace, and
  • stop immediately if they lose visual contact with signalling.

Don’t forget to turn off the cell phone, radio, and any other distractions before backing. You need all your senses and powers of concentration to pull off this skilled task safely.

SafetyDriven – TSCBC provides members with free access to the online CCOHS course Safe Driving: Backing Up, which was developed in collaboration with Thinking Driver and includes videos and online quizzes.

Other workers in a worksite where vehicles are in motion also need to understand the hazards and follow these guidelines:

  • wear high-visibility apparel,
  • make eye contact with the driver when approaching a vehicle,
  • be alert for back-up alarms and watch for a spotter’s signals,
  • don’t work near a vehicle’s blind spots, and
  • don’t stand or walk in areas where vehicles are moving.

For more on general site safety, visit the following SafetyDriven – TSCBC links:

“Site Safety Information and Resources for Drivers”
“Site Safety Information and Resources for Supervisors”
“Site Safety: What you need to know”

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