Apply the Brakes

Ensure your safety with a pre-trip inspection


Motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death and injury for all ages. Crashes occurring on the job have profound financial effects on employees, their families, coworkers and employers. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (CDC/NIOSH) statistics, 62 percent of vehicles occupied by a fatally injured worker were registered to a business. The CDC/NIOSH also states that 62 percent of fatalities occurred between the hours of 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. Electrical contractors should understand the traveling risks of their business and that the integrity of the vehicle can contribute to safety on the road.

Vehicle inspection is one way to ensure safety. Breakdowns or unqualified equipment can contribute to accidents. Perform an inspection before every trip or shift. Follow the specific inspection procedures established for the vehicle to which you are assigned. Most pre-shift inspections require the operator to check the engine compartment, start the engine, look inside the vehicle and do a walk-around. Perform inspections the same way each time. This will prevent you from forgetting something. Check the history of the vehicle by reviewing the last inspection report. If any problems were listed, check if they were fixed. If the problems were not addressed, keep the vehicle out of service until proper repairs are made.

The general condition of the vehicle should be included in the inspection. Look for damage. Is the vehicle leaning to one side? Look underneath for oil, coolant, grease or fuel leaks. The employee conducting the inspection should know how to check lights, fluid levels, tires, wheels and rims, brakes, the steering system, suspension, the exhaust system, and cargo. Make sure the vehicle has emergency equipment, including a fire extinguisher, spare electrical fuses and three reflective warning triangles. Any loose items inside the vehicle should always be secured or removed. If the driver has to brake suddenly or otherwise attempt to avoid an accident, loose items can turn into hazardous projectiles. A vehicle must also be loaded safely. Never exceed the limits. In addition, it is important that the employee knows and observes the capacity of the vehicle.

The pre-trip inspection can be boiled down to seven key steps. This helps make the process more manageable and more likely it will be completed by the employees:

1. Overview

2. Check the engine and compartment.

3. Start engine, and inspect the inside of the cab.

4. Turn off engine and inspect lights.

5. Perform a walk-around inspection.

6. Check the signal lights

7. Start the engine, and inspect the brake system.

During the trip, watch the gauges for signs of trouble. Look, listen, smell and feel for problems. Check critical items—tires, wheels, rims, brakes, lights and coupling devices on trailers—when you stop. Be sure that cargo is firmly secured.

Inspections should also be performed upon return. List any problems on a vehicle condition report. This inspection report will let your supervisor know if the vehicle needs repair or maintenance.

Regulations require periodic mechanical inspections of vehicles licensed to travel on public roads. Inspections allow a qualified licensed inspector to examine and approve vehicles for safe operation. Be sure that your vehicle has a current inspection sticker.

However, vehicle inspections will only find problems. To ensure vehicle safety, those problems must be fixed. In addition to inspections and service, preventative maintenance should be performed to stop any problems before they arise, and needed maintenance can be part of the inspection report. Oil changes, filter changes and lubrication are a few ways preventative maintenance can keep vehicles safe.

For maintenance, however, it is beneficial to have a schedule that tells management when it is time to check and service certain systems. For example, oil changes increase the life of the engine. Failure to check the oil level each day and change it at periodic intervals could cause serious engine damage, costing thousands of dollars.

Investing time and money in good preventative maintenance can yield lower operating costs and safer equipment. The National Electrical Contractors Association Safety Expert System software contains a vehicle-maintenance recordkeeping application that can help contractors track maintenance and inspection schedules. For more information, contact NECA at 301.657.3110 or visit the NECA Store online at               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

About the Author

Joe O'Connor

Freelance Writer
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 joconnor@inte...

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