The 39-year-old co-owner of a construction company was killed when a work truck backed over him, despite the fact he was wearing a high-visibility vest at the time.
Investigators found that the driver’s view from the truck was restricted due to a rack and fuel transfer hose reel on its flatbed deck. The truck also lacked a backup signal alarm.
Driver didn’t realize he’d run over anyone
The co-owner worked as an employee for his family’s business for 17 years with the last eight years spent as a co-owner. He worked on large civil projects, splitting his duties as a project manager, foreman and laborer, according to a Washington State Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program investigation report.
On July 17, 2023, the co-owner arrived in the morning to work on a levee maintenance project. Workers were preparing to remove topsoil before excavating the site.
He parked his pickup truck and got out on the dirt road to meet with the site superintendent, who drove up to him in a commercial heavy-duty work truck. The co-owner got into the work truck with the superintendent.
They drove to a spot nearby where the superintendent asked the co-owner to get out of the truck and walk back to his pickup truck to make room for another worker. The co-owner got out of the truck as the worker approached and got in.
As the co-owner began to walk back toward his pickup truck, the superintendent started backing into a turnaround area on the side of the road. He backed up about 100 feet when a dump truck driver behind him yelled over the radio for him to stop. The worker who had taken the co-owner’s place in the work truck told the superintendent that he had backed over the co-owner.
The superintendent hit the brakes, got out of the truck and found the co-owner lying face down under the vehicle. He called 9-1-1 and was told to pull the co-owner out from under the truck and begin CPR. Several other workers came over to help.
Emergency responders arrived quickly, but the co-owner died at the scene.
High-visibility vest didn’t help because of obstructed view
Following the incident, FACE Program investigators found that:
- the co-owner was wearing a high-visibility vest but the superintendent and passenger in the work truck still didn’t see him in the side and rear view mirrors
- a steel tube headache rack and fuel transfer hose reel on the truck’s flatbed deck obstructed visibility through the work truck’s rear window, and
- the work truck hadn’t been inspected annually as required by law.
The FACE investigation report points out that Washington employers are required to prohibit use of “any motor vehicle equipment that has an obstructed view to the rear” unless the vehicle:
- has an operable automatic reverse signal alarm audible above the surrounding noise level and audible no less than 15 feet from the rear of the vehicle, or
- is backed up when an observer signals that it is safe to do so.
That requirement applies to all worksite vehicles other than passenger cars and pickup trucks.
Also, the state obviously requires compliance with annual commercial motor vehicle inspection requirements.
Policies should require drivers to maintain visibility of pedestrians
To avoid a similar incident, FACE Program investigators recommended that employers create and enforce vehicle backing safety policies that require:
- drivers to maintain clear visibility of workers on foot
- drivers to stop and not resume movement until visibility is re-established if they lose sight of workers on foot
- workers to stay out of backing zones unless they are trained and acting as an observer signaling the driver, and
- workers on foot to be prohibited from using radios or phones when crossing roads when there is vehicle traffic.
Employers should also increase the availability of vehicle turnaround areas on construction site roads to minimize backing distances.