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Driven to Safety: ATV and UTV precautions for remote lineworkers

By Tom O'Connor | Dec 15, 2022
atv sign
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) are popular for getting lineworkers to remote sites and over rough terrain.

All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility terrain vehicles (UTVs) are popular for getting lineworkers to remote sites and over rough terrain. However, using these vehicles can be hazardous. In a 10-year study of ATV workplace accidents, there were 113 fatalities and 1,625 serious injuries, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ ATV Occupational Fatalities and Injuries study. Most of these accidents are preventable by exercising the proper caution, wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and selecting the right vehicle.  

An ATV is an off-highway vehicle operated by someone straddling the seat and using handlebar steering controls. It is designed to run on four low-­pressure or nonpneumatic tires. A UTV is an off-highway vehicle equipped with a steering wheel like a car or truck, often with a truck-like bed. UTVs are designed to travel on four or more tires and carry one or more people. Both can travel over rough terrain and can be used to haul items.

While there is no specific regulation pertaining to ATV/UTV use, employer responsibilities fall under the purview of the General Duty Clause, Section 5(a)(1), to keep the workplace free from recognized serious hazards. OSHA has issued numerous citations for failing to provide a safe workplace.

Right sizes and inspections

ATVs/UTVs are not one-size-fits-all vehicles. They come in a variety of sizes, and it is important that operators use vehicles that fit their physique. Smaller individuals should consider selecting smaller ATVs because every user should be able to reach and operate all controls safely and comfortably. Employers may consult with the manufacturer or dealer to determine the optimal vehicle for each rider. 

Prior to operating an ATV/UTV, a preride inspection is necessary. The most common industry inspection is the T-CLOC check. 

T—Tires and wheels: Check air pressure, tire condition, rim bolts, axle nuts and wheel bearings.

C—Controls and cables: Locate and check controls, brake pedal adjustment, fluid level and shifter operations.

L—Lights and electronics: Check lights, ignition switch, engine stop switch and function of all gauges.

O—Oil, fuel, fluids and air filter: Check oil, fuel, coolant levels and air filter, and look for possible leaks.

C—Chassis, suspension, driveshaft and external equipment.

If any defects or problems are observed, the vehicle should be removed from service and not be used until repaired and safe.

Appropriate PPE use

Employers must provide appropriate PPE when ATVs/UTVs are in use. 

They should also give training on what PPE to wear and how to use it correctly. This includes eye and face protection (such as shields or goggles), long-sleeved clothing, gloves and the appropriate footwear, including safety toe or nonskid shoes and boots. 

However, the most important piece of PPE is the proper-fitting helmet and head protection approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT). The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission identifies four types of approved helmets: the Snell M-2005, M-2010, CMS/CMR 20073 and DOT FMVSS 218.

ATV/UTV operators should also secure loose bootlaces that can become entangled in a spinning ATV axle and avoid wearing loose clothing that could get caught in passing brush. Additionally, when working in colder climates, operators should dress in layers with a flame-resistant outer layer.

Using an ATV/UTV

When an operator is ready to use an ATV/UTV, it should be placed in neutral or park, with the parking brake locked prior to starting the vehicle. The driver must stay alert near terrain hazards, such as holes, stumps, ruts, culverts, wires, fences and large rocks. They should also be aware of site-specific hazards, including excavations, trenches and areas where ATV/UTV use is prohibited. The vehicle should maintain a speed that is appropriate for the terrain, visibility conditions and operator’s experience level.

Take extreme caution when encountering rough or steep terrain, logs, mud or water. Operators must assess the terrain before crossing and follow any specialized protocols and pertinent safety training or precautions. In the event the vehicle needs to cross a roadway, the driver should stop on the shoulder, look both ways for oncoming traffic, avoid roadways where visibility is limited, use a spotter to watch for traffic and choreograph the crossing, cross only at a 90-degree angle and abide by traffic signs when traveling on pavement. Keep in mind that it is illegal in most states for ATVs/UTVs to operate on roadways, and these vehicles are not intended for use on pavement or concrete.

An ATV/UTV should be parked on flat terrain. If the vehicle needs to be parked on uneven ground, engage the parking brake when dismounting, chock the wheels and avoid parking sideways. The vehicle should be directed away from the work area.

There are many other nuances and safety precautions that can be taken when it comes to ATV/UTV safety in the workplace. For information and more detailed safety precautions, check out the new NECA guide on ATV/UTV safety.

About The Author

O’CONNOR is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm. Reach him at [email protected].

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