Off-Road Warriors

By Joe O'Connor | Mar 15, 2007




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A new workplace hazard rides in:

Most all terrain vehicle (ATV) use in the United States is recreational; however, ATV use in the workplace is on the rise. Employers often use ATVs to allow employees to move through rough terrain and get access to remote locations more quickly. ATVs may also be seen on certain construction sites. As ATV use in the workplace increases, so will work-related injuries. In the past 10 years, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has investigated 50 workplace accidents involving an ATV injury or fatality. Preventative measures are necessary.

Due to the limited amount of occupational injury data on ATVs, OSHA believes that injury and fatality statistics for recreational use could illustrate trends that would apply to workplace ATV usage. A September 2005 report published by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) showed recreational fatalities rose 165 percent in the past 20 years. In just the last 10 years, there have been 800,000 injuries. ATV job-related tasks expose employees to hazards similar to recreational use.

Most commonly, OSHA investigates ATV accidents due to unbalanced or excessive loads, excessive speeds, operating on paved roads, protective equipment neglect, insufficient or no training, and carrying passengers.

ATVs are designed to go at moderate speeds over unpaved roads. Modifications to the equipment after purchase increase risks. They can cause weight- limit violation, which affects the ATV’s maneuverability and performance. Front and rear cargo rack increases are a common after-market modification. This leads to instability and a greater likelihood of the ATV overturning.

The level of driver experience and neglecting to use protective equipment also contribute to ATV-related injuries. Inexperienced drivers are at higher risk for injury. Data shows that almost half the injured drivers had less than one year of experience. Also, in a West Virginia study of ATV head and neck injuries, 75 percent were not wearing helmets at the time.

In addition, just like any other motor vehicle, poor maintenance of an ATV contributes to accidents and fatalities. Contractors should view ATVs just like any other piece of machinery. They need to have regular maintenance and tune-ups.

OSHA has recommended the following to help reduce the risk of injury when using an ATV:

  • Instructions and hands-on training should be provided to employees. Employees should be capable of operating the ATV under a variety of conditions and terrains. When new ATVs are purchased, free training is usually available, and the ATV Safety Institute offers classes (
  • Be certain that all ATV drivers review the operating manual and that they understand and follow all manufacturers’ warnings.
  • Never permit ATV drivers to carry passengers.
  • Require a pretrip ATV inspection.
  • Insist ATV drivers wear proper helmets and boots. Other safety equipment should be used where conditions require it.
  • Establish policies dealing with appropriate ATV usage (e.g., no use on paved or public roads and areas with high traffic).
  • Require employees to drive at speeds appropriate for the weather and terrain conditions.
  • Perform routine maintenance, including the following: Make certain controls are working properly (for example throttle, brakes); check headlights and taillights; perform steering tests at low operating speeds; test the suspension system; and report any mechanical failure or damage, so repairs can be made.
  • Be certain that everyone using ATVs on your work site (employees, contractors) is aware of site-specific hazards.
  • Establish a regular maintenance program that meets or exceeds the manufacturer’s standards.
  • Ensure employees haul items that meet with the specifications for the ATV and never exceed the weight limit.
  • Be certain all loads hauled by ATVs are evenly distributed.
  • Only allow modifications approved by the ATV’s manufacturer.
  • Watch for and promptly deal with any manufacturer recalls.

These are general guidelines for any use of an ATV; they are not specific to workplace ATV usage. But as employers, the protection of your employees and upkeep of any ATVs falls on you. Although not all in the industry use ATVs at this time, you can follow these guidelines during recreational use as well. EC

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or by e-mail at [email protected].


About The Author

Joe O'Connor is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or [email protected].


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