Published In January 2002
According to the latest figures available from the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA), an average of one electrician is involved in a vehicle-related accident at work every day. Transportation-related incidents are the third-leading cause of fatalities in the industry. This should come as no surprise, considering the amount of exposure. Whether your company is involved in power line construction or residential service, vehicles are needed to get to the job site. In addition, once at the site, work may involve activities that can place the electricians in harm’s way with passing motorists. Action must be taken to protect workers traveling to sites and guard them while at locations near other moving vehicles. The key to assessing the company’s risks for vehicle-related injuries rests in analyzing operations and past experience. All work that places employees in a vehicle or its path must be identified. This requires a review of site conditions. How will employees access the location? What type of traffic will be present during work activity? Which employees will be involved? Once established, procedures can be implemented for their safety. As a basis for these procedures, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has established a set of recommendations. At the top of NIOSH’s list is the use of seat belts. In studies of fatal occupational crashes, 62 percent of the deceased were not wearing seat belts. The OSHA standard for construction (29 CFR 1926.601) requires that all vehicles be equipped with seats for all passengers and seat belts for each passenger. Employers should ensure that all new vehicles have the latest equipment in occupant protection, such as air bags and shoulder restraints for rear seat passengers. A seat belt policy should mandate their use. Never allow the number of employees in a vehicle to exceed the available belts. Excessive speed is another key factor. It not only places the occupants at risk, but it also endangers pedestrians. Establish work rules that require employees to observe speed limits. Allow sufficient time for employees to get to jobs and move between job sites. Meeting work schedules should not become an excuse for excessive speeds. Enforce compliance with speed limits. Taking control of the speed of the vehicle brings to mind other driver-related factors. The driver’s condition is critical. Employees who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, are fatigued, or have poor driving skills cause many accidents. A background check should be conducted on all prospective drivers. The Department of Transportation or your insurance carrier can assist with this. Provide performance-based training. Train new employees and periodically offer refresher training for existing employees. Instruction should include basic driving skills as well as information on how driving under work conditions differs from that for personal purposes. To avoid having drivers who are under the influence, establish and enforce a drug- and alcohol-free work policy. Ensure that drivers have been instructed to stop driving when fatigued. Observe the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) standards for hours of service for all operations that apply. Consider using these limitations for all drivers. All drivers must be alert. Finally, with respect to driving safety, ensure the vehicle is in proper working order. Establish written procedures to ensure the regular maintenance of all vehicle systems. Select new vehicles equipped with safety features, such as antilock brakes and daytime running lights. Train workers on basic vehicle maintenance. Make sure all vehicles are inspected before and after each use. Provide the same level of protection for workers outside the vehicle. Traffic can be a hazard to workers performing their duties on closed job sites, as well as public roads. Ensuring the safety of employees in a work zone, where vehicles pass, focuses on making the driver aware of the activity and providing proper direction. The FHWA has established standards for public roads. They are contained in The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. These standards establish consistent procedures and can be found on the FHWA Web site at http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/ pdfs/millennium/06.14.01/Coverint.pdf. Another mandate for employees in traffic/work zones is the use of high-visibility clothing. Clothing must also be appropriate for the potential hazard. For example, specifications for clothing worn while performing work at night or near high-speed areas are different than daylight work or low-speed areas. Be sure to describe site conditions to your supplier when ordering work vests for traffic work zones. Vehicle hazards affect all workers. Whether you have employees working on job sites near moving vehicles or riding in the vehicle, they face danger. Precautions must be taken to prevent accidents. Ensure that drivers are trained and alert, vehicles well maintained, and sufficient warning is present to alert drivers to the presence of workers on the job site. O’CONNOR is with Intec, a producer of safety manuals with training videos and software for contractors. Based in Alexandria, Va., he can be reached at (703) 628-4326, or by e-mail at email@example.com.