In the United States, there are close to ten million people in trucking-related jobs. Over 2 million tractor-trailers hit the roadways each year, logging nearly 450 billion annual miles. These trucks account for 70 percent of freight transported in the US, with several trillion dollars of cargo delivered in North America each year.
For a delivery system that’s so critical to our nation, the safety risks associated with the trucking industry are huge.
OSHA reports that an average of 475,000 large trucks are involved in accidents each year, causing over 5,000 deaths and 142,000 injuries. A quarter of those belong to the truck drivers (although the truck operators are only responsible for 30 percent or less of the accidents.) In addition to driving-related accidents, regulators issued numerous citations for improper guards on equipment, lack of personal protective equipment, improper grounding of equipment and lack of proper fall protection.
The sad reality is that employees in the trucking industry have more work-related fatalities than any other occupation, with a full third of these deaths taking place off of the roadway. The industry also accounts for more non-fatal injuries requiring medical attention than any other form of employment, with the most prevalent injuries being sprains and strains. One of the most prevalent types of serious occurrences is back-overs, with many hundreds of employees being struck each year.
So what can be done?
Establish Proper Protocols
OSHA estimates that 70 percent of businesses do not have an established safety and health plan. Simply posting bulletins and laying manuals on tables do not protect workers. Proper protocols need to be established that address equipment, gear, weather, vehicles, communication, signage and more.
For example, when unloading goods, people on foot should stay out of the loading zone. Personnel should not be downhill of moving cargo, and all employees should be free of trailers and wheels before a truck is moved. These seemingly common sense items should never be left to common sense alone; they need to be stated.
All protocols should be unique to your environment. Nobody else’s worksite looks like yours or presents the same specific challenges. From visibility to geological, geographic and meteorological features, address your strengths and weaknesses. And prepare a plan that will send every employee home safely each and every day.
Once the protocols are established, train your employees on them. If you are going to reduce accidents and prepare a safe work environment, training cannot be taken lightly. OSHA and a number of other agencies will provide training for you. All you have to do is ask.
Training needs to be conducted on everything from equipment to personal protective gear. When dealing with trucks, you need to address the visual limits of the drivers, blind spots, communication signals and acknowledgments, spotters, loading, unloading, etc.
For example, a back-over incident is when a vehicle that’s backing up strikes a worker while they’re either standing, walking or kneeling behind the vehicle. Common reasons for back-overs include:
- Spotters for one vehicle who don’t see a second vehicle backing up without a spotter
- Workers riding on trucks who fall off and get run over
- Trucks backing without a spotter, so they don’t see a worker in their blind spot
- Backup warning signals that are not operational
Most of these incidents could be prevented with proper protocols and training. Requiring trained spotters to be present on all backups reduces incidents significantly. Further, training employees about the location of a truck’s blind spots helps them avoid ending up in one.
Loading and Unloading Equipment
The modern trucking industry has come a long way from the days of the handcart. From gangways and loading ramps to platforms and bridges, your equipment needs to meet your operational needs. Too often, a one-size-fits-all approach is taken with equipment, and this leads to safety hazards.
When ordering your equipment, make sure your vendor knows the sizes of your trucks, the dimensions of your loading and unloading area, the configuration of the operations, and so on. They can work with you to design a custom solution that will maximize your employee safety.
In addition to equipment that fits, don’t forget to think about visibility. On the work site, orange and yellow have special meanings. Make sure your employees and equipment are highly visible and easy to see.
Whether you are opening a hatch or working on a tarp, when you leave the ground, you are subject to a fall. OSHA standards require fall protection any time you’re at least 4 feet, 6 feet or 8 feet off of the ground, depending on your operation. Granted, the best fall system is one that does not have you on top of the truck, but when that’s unavoidable, fall protection needs to be in place. Consider beam and trolley systems, access platforms, lifelines and more. Safety cages are also always good options, and automatic tarping systems could be considered fall protection since it keeps employees off of the truck.
When working in inclement weather, canopies protect your employees from the elements and significantly reduce the chances of a fall. Spill containment equipment keeps slick or hazardous materials from ending up under your employee’s feet. Gaps and drop-offs should be secured near all lift gates and loading docks.
Many times employees will attempt to inspect or fix a problem when the truck is outside of the standard work area. These instances relate back to developing good protocols and training, especially in the case of roadside repairs or emergency service work.
In 2015, the top three most cited violations by OSHA were, once again, fall protection, hazard communication and scaffolding. Don’t let any of your employees become one of these statistics.
According to the United States Department of Labor: “Truck or rail tank car loading … is one of the most hazardous operations likely to be undertaken at any manufacturing or storage facility. Workers engaged in the loading or unloading of suspension-type highway trailers may be at an increased risk of injury due to the inability of damaged trailers to support the weight of the powered industrial truck used to load or unload the trailer.”
Prior to engaging in loading and unloading activities, take the time to inspect the trailers and ensure they have been properly maintained. The same goes for power trucks. The right time to find out there’s a mechanical issue is not when you are in the middle of moving a massive load.
Safety is job one. With a few precautions, some quality training and proper equipment, your employees will love coming to work because they know they will be going home safely at the end of the day.