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By: Geoffrey S. Pope Published: January 2021

Motor Vehicle Safety: an Essential Part of Your Construction Safety Program

Probably because for most of us driving is a daily activity (whether we work in construction or not) those of us who are in construction seldom think of it as a construction task, at least when heavy equipment is not involved.  However, while operating heavy equipment safely indeed poses special challenges, passenger vehicles and light trucks also require care if accidents are to be avoided.  While falls are the #1 cause of serious injuries and deaths on construction sites, across the economy motor vehicle mishaps are far and away the leading cause of work-related injuries.

While many of us raised in the USA had professional instruction or high school driver’s education classes, you shouldn’t, for one thing, take for granted that your employees are all well-trained, experienced or even licensed drivers.  Not a few recent immigrants, for example, hail from poorer countries where car ownership is not a given.  Only in 2019 did New York begin issuing driver’s licenses to the undocumented; even persons presently holding green cards may have spent years without driving.  Drivers, wherever born, sometimes lose their licenses for DUIs or other traffic offenses, and you would therefore do well to verify licensure at the time of hire, and periodically thereafter, if the employee in question is going to be operating a motor vehicle, even occasionally, in connection with his or her employment.  Naturally, where your state has different classes of licenses for passenger vehicles, trucks, cranes, or other equipment, you need to make sure that employees are properly and currently licensed for any vehicles or equipment they may be called upon to operate.  Since “if you didn’t keep a written record, it didn’t happen,” the ascertainment that each employee was found to have all appropriate licenses, as well as any accidents or infractions, should be kept as a part of each employee’s personnel file.

In training your employees about safe driving, you need to enforce a number of points that are probably well-known, but often disregarded, among drivers.

Just for starters, here are some policies and practices you should stress among all of your employees who drive:

  • Seat belt use should be mandatory.
  • Workers should not be asked to drive irregular hours, or hours far in excess of their usual working hours.
  • Driving at night, or in conditions of poor visibility due to adverse weather, should be kept to a minimum.  This is especially important for drivers over the age of fifty.
  • Mobile phone use should be minimized, and limited to phones that can be operated by voice commands.  Texting while driving should be strictly forbidden.
  • Assignments requiring road travel should be scheduled to avoid having to dive at high speed in order to meet deadlines or arrive at appointments on time.
  • Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol should be made a firing offense.  Also, failing to report the revocation or suspension of one’s license should result in disciplinary action.
  • In buying or leasing cars, light trucks, or heavy equipment, research the safety features and statistics of the models you are considering, and give a high priority to vehicles and equipment that have been shown to be safe.
  • All vehicles and equipment should be inspected and serviced regularly, in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommen­dations and applicable laws.  Employees should be instructed to report any repair issues to a supervisor, and vehicles or equipment found to be malfunctioning should be taken out of service until repaired..

Generally, one’s vision (especially night vision) and driving skills begin to head downhill between the ages of 50 and 55, and many older drivers underestimate the deterioration in their skills.  There are a number of things older drivers should do to manage this slippage.  Among other things, they should see an ophthalmologist at least annually, slow down, avoid tailgating, take a “defensive driving” course, and pay special attention to avoid driving while drowsy or fatigued.  Driving with one’s headlights lit in the dawn and twilight hours helps other drivers see you, and allowing extra distance between your vehicle, and the vehicle ahead of you, compensates for your no-longer-razor-sharp reflexes should a sudden stop be required.

Needless to say, alcohol and drugs are doubly inadvisable for the older driver.

Naturally, the operation of heavy equipment such as excavators, loaders, graders, rollers and bulldozers must be limited to individuals with demonstrated skills and the highest concern for safety.  Struck-by injuries and roll-overs are the primary dangers, and training must include not only your operators, but all and any who might be called upon to work on foot in proximity to equipment being operated.  Some of the basics are as follows.

Probably the paramount issue is communication.  Equipment should only be operated with a signal person communicating with the operator using a standardized set of hand signals.  A two-way radio is recommended as a supplementary means of communication.  Persons working on foot should wear high-visibility vests, as it is critical that the operator know, at all times, their locations.  The dangers of operating any motor vehicle in reverse are multiplied when heavy equipment is involved.  Therefore, a backup warning alarm is a must. Both operators and persons working on foot should utilize hearing protection as required.

Heavy equipment must have a rollover protective structure that meets OSHA requirements.  A seat belt must always be worn to prevent the operator being ejected during a rollover or upset situation. 

Operators should be trained to use the “three-point rule” in mounting or dismounting heavy equipment.  This means that both feet and one hand, or one foot and both hands, must be in contact with the ladder access at all times.  Jumping on or off equipment must be prohibited.

Equipment must be serviced regularly per the manufacturers’ recommendations.  Periodic safety inspections on all components must be performed by qualified personnel.  The steering and braking systems should be given particular attention, and a pre-shift, walk-around by the operator is always a good idea.

Mishaps involving heavy equipment often produce fatalities or serious injuries.  Avoiding them must therefore be given a high priority.

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