The idea of someone backing over another person seems absurd, but unfortunately it does happen -- especially on construction sites and among professional drivers. Even more tragically, these accidents cause dozens of fatalities every year.
According to federal statistics, there were at least 70 fatal workplace accidents involving vehicle backups in 2011. These incidents, where a vehicle that is backing up ends up striking another worker behind it, are completely preventable, but the necessary steps to prevent them sometimes end up being ignored in our hasty world.
The vehicles most commonly involved in backup accidents may surprise you
According to data from OSHA's Integrated Management Information System, dump trucks were by far the most common culprit in backover fatalities. Between 2005 and 2010 there were 67 fatal workplace accidents caused by dump trucks backing up. The second most common vehicle to be involved in fatal backup accidents was the semi or tractor-trailer truck, with 40 reported fatalities. Other vehicles commonly involved in fatal backups include forklifts, garbage trucks and even pickup trucks.
How can that happen, you may ask, when commercial vehicles all have those piercing, beeping backup alarms? Well, one reason is that some workplaces are so noisy that workers genuinely can't hear the alarms. On other job sites, the sound of alarms is ubiquitous -- and easily ignored. Sometimes, the backup alarms are disabled.
Of course, some people mean to get out of the way of a backing truck but simply can't do so because they stumble and fall.
Backup accidents are preventable by alertness and communication
Depending on your workplace, there are a variety of ways to prevent fatal workplace accidents like these. One is to require a spotter whenever a vehicle must be backed up. Alternatively, trucks can be equipped with backup cameras and proximity detection systems, or employees can be tagged electronically with a reader in the truck to alert the driver of nearby workers. Some employers set up internal traffic control plans that keep trucks away from people, or reduce the need for trucks to back up at all.
Training workers to recognize when they could be in a truck's blind spot can also be effective, since blind spots aren't obvious to people outside the vehicle. Consider downloading these blind spot diagrams developed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.