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On every construction site, vehicles impact nearly every aspect of onsite operations. Bulldozers, front loaders, dump trucks and trenchers are just some of the many vehicles helping bring a project to life. 

But the high volume—and variety—of vehicles seen on jobsites can spell risk and liability. With employees and vehicles navigating multiple areas, the potential risk of an accident always exists.

Fortunately, there are several strategies that can protect workers and vehicles alike, while creating a safer and more productive construction environment.  

Understanding the costs of vehicle accidents 

To better understand the value that vehicle safety initiatives can provide, it’s important to recognize the growing costs that go with jobsite accidents. Consider how an accident could lead to the following: 

  • vehicle repair, replacement and rental costs; 
  • project delays;
  • hiring and training more drivers if a worker is injured;
  • injury or property costs if a company driver is found liable;
  • large settlements that could surpass insurance coverage limits; and
  • higher insurance premiums.

These costs, both individually and collectively, could be immense for any business. With the help of a thorough risk management program, teams can take a proactive approach to vehicle safety and reduce many of the risks that cause accidents. The following pillars are a great way to get started. 

Develop a fleet safety program

A formal, written fleet safety program can provide future framework for operating and maintaining all company vehicles, including hired and non-owned automobiles (HNOA). This program will help inform employees of their expectations when operating company vehicles, while outlining their responsibilities and performance objectives. Details of the program should address, but are not limited to:

  • criteria for selecting drivers, such as a valid driver’s license, evaluation of motor vehicle records, driving records, behavior, etc.; 
  • driver training and re-occurring education;
  • accident reporting;
  • initial and periodic Motor Vehicle Reports (MVR);
  • standards for maintaining driving privileges;
  • vehicle inspection and maintenance instructions;
  • personal use of vehicles; and
  • HNOA use. 
Identify past accidents

Most risk management plans require several guiding principles to influence safety initiatives. A defined set of safety goals can help. Before getting started, compile and examine jobsite accidents that have occurred in recent years to identify re-occurring issues such as:

  • distracted driving;
  • driver blind spots;
  • falling materials and loads;
  • equipment tip-over or rollover;
  • vehicles left in gear or without brakes set;
  • operating during inclement weather;
  • improper use of heavy equipment; and
  • maintenance-related breakdowns 
Set driver expectations

Once a strong understanding of previous accidents exists, communicate the findings to all employees and request their feedback to help outline safety expectations for drivers, spotters and groundworkers. Start by outlining driver expectations first, which can later be used as a reference point for spotters and groundworkers. Expectations may vary by the project and vehicle being used, but some driver best practices should remain constant, including: 

  • familiarity with the heavy equipment and operator’s manual;
  • avoiding operating equipment parallel to slopes or embankments;
  • using a three-point mounting and dismounting technique off heavy equipment;
  • avoiding contact with overhead energized powerlines;
  • adjusting all side and back mirrors to minimize blind spots;
  • following established jobsite speeds;
  • prohibiting substance use prior to or during operation; 
  • using seatbelts inside all vehicles;
  • ensuring workers are clear of equipment before operating;
  • acknowledging and allowing safe passage to workers when alerted they’re approaching;
  • turning off the engine and engaging brakes before leaving the vehicle;
  • avoiding overloading vehicles;
  • requiring trained spotters to assist with vehicle movements such as backing up or turning; and
  • inspecting the vehicle before use, including:
  • brake lights; 
  • brake system;
  • audible warning devices, such as the horn and back-up alarm;
  • headlights;
  • taillights; andwindshield wipers.

Place a copy of the expectations in each commercial vehicle and consider having employees sign an acknowledgment form. This can help create a shared understanding of vehicle safety practices and serve as information to revisit if certain expectations are overlooked during a project. 

Improve spotter visibility 

While drivers often receive much of the focus during vehicle safety discussions, spotters can add a much-needed layer of security. Each spotter’s goal is to improve safety; however, their proximity near heavy equipment poses personal risks. For this reason, spotters should always wear high-visibility clothing to remain noticeable to the driver. 

When vehicles are in motion, spotters should also remain in constant communication with the operator and surrounding workers, including the team leader, by using predefined hand signals or two-way radios. When trained with a safety-first approach, spotters can open the lines of communication between workers, nearby pedestrians and the operator. As such, they play a fundamental role in reducing jobsite accidents. 

Keep ground workers safe

Like spotters, groundworkers can help drivers and those around them reduce accident risks. Groundworkers should be trained to maintain a safe distance from heavy equipment, while staying alert and wearing high-visibility clothing. This includes walking under suspended loads or setting up work areas near heavy equipment. 

If team members need to approach a vehicle, prior acknowledgment should be received from the spotter or driver first. Remind groundworkers that the passenger side of most vehicles creates a larger blind spot for drivers, therefore it’s often best to approach the vehicle from the driver’s side.

Control public access to jobsites 

Once employees and company vehicles are accounted for, include a strategy for managing nearby public bystanders. If left unmonitored, members of the public may enter jobsites and expose themselves and drivers to additional hazards. For this reason, jobsite access should be controlled with the use of proper signage and fencing. Other portable options such as cones and barricades can also be used to accommodate changing jobsite structures, while allowing for storage when a project is complete. Remember, pedestrian safety starts with strong communication before they’re near a jobsite. 

Making safety a primary goal for every worker is a great step toward reducing jobsite accidents. However, some accidents may be unavoidable. Before those accidents occur, consider a commercial auto liability plan to help cover the costs that may result from an accident. A combination of safety and protection can provide the peace of mind needed to complete projects with confidence. As always, consult local experts and attorneys for advice specific to the business.


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