Safe Dump Truck Operations Are Vital to the Industry

What would we do without trucks? Without trucks, this great country of ours would come to a screeching halt. Trucks are used to transport goods and materials everywhere. In the utility construction industry, trucks are used to transport equipment and materials to, from and around jobsites. Other than the pickup truck, the dump truck is probably the most common truck used in the construction industry and can be found driving in and out of every jobsite.

We see them all the time and often forget how dangerous they can be. When was the last time you took a look at your company’s dump truck operations? Maybe now, just as the construction season in many parts of the country is beginning, you should review these operations and determine what needs to be done to ensure that accidents don’t happen.

If your company owns trucks, you should already have a fleet operations plan established. At minimum, the plan should include a company policy for driver qualification, training, vehicle inspections, maintenance and safety rules. If you subcontract trucking operations, you should have procedures that ensure those trucks have been maintained and are in good condition. If you permit a sub to send rickety old trucks in poor repair to your jobsite, your company could be held liable for them by OSHA or the courts.

Equipment Maintenance

As with all of your equipment, trucks must be regularly inspected and any problems should be repaired. Prior to operating the truck, the driver should always perform a pre-trip inspection that includes checking lights, turn-signals, stop lights, mirrors, windshield wipers, tires, tire pressure, oil level, brakes and back-up alarm. The driver must confirm everything is in working order and in good condition before driving the truck on the road or moving it around the jobsite.

Drivers and/or mechanics should regularly inspect: the suspension system under load to ensure even suspension; pins and bushings for wear and lubrication; hydraulic cylinders and hoses for leaks or damage; boxes for damage; and anything else that may require routine maintenance.

Driver Qualification

All dump truck drivers must be qualified (by training and/or experience) and possess a CDL license. No one who has not been prequalified by the fleet manager should be permitted to drive a truck. As part of the prequalification, the employer must verify the driver has earned a CDL and should pull an MVR (driving history report) on the driver prior to permitting the individual behind the wheel. Have your insurance agent or insurance company run an MVR check if you are not able to in-house. Your company certainly does not need somebody with a poor driving record and/or a fraudulent driver’s license behind the wheel of a big, heavy and very expensive dump truck.

Drivers should be thoroughly familiar with the company fleet safety rules before hitting the road. It’s also a good practice to require drivers to attend a truck driver’s defensive driving course (DDC), such as those offered by the National Safety Council. This will not only help to ensure a safe driver is operating your expensive truck, but you may be able to take advantage of premium discounts offered by many insurance companies when a percentage of company drivers have attended a DDC.

Elements of Safe Truck Operation

There’s more to operating a dump truck than just driving it from point A to B. One of the most hazardous situations associated with dumping a load is truck tip-over caused by an unbalanced load. Drivers should be trained to recognize hazards such as soft soil conditions, uneven surfaces and inadequately compacted fill. They should also avoid surfaces that are sloped to the side such as low road shoulders because they can change the truck’s center of gravity. When spreading material from a moving truck, the driver should make sure the entire length of travel is relatively level.

Trucks should never be parked close to a trench/excavation. Even when the truck is not loaded, the weight of the vehicle is sufficient to surcharge the trench wall and cause a cave-in. The vibration caused by a truck can also affect the trench wall stability and should always be loaded and unloaded a safe distance from the edge of an excavation.

Drivers should ensure adequate clearance from overhead power lines and obstructions, especially when raising the truck bed. They should also ensure that workers are clear of the truck. Additionally, all workers should be instructed to stay clear of the back and sides of trucks when it is being loaded and unloaded.

Before raising the dump bed, the driver should ensure that the tailgate and dump bed are unlocked. The driver should return to the driver’s seat and should not stand beside the truck or on the running board when dumping. Trucks should be separated from other vehicles and equipment during a dump to ensure that if the truck does tip over it will not cause an injury to other drivers, workers and/or equipment operators or cause damage to other equipment.

Traffic Control Inside the Worksite

Two-thirds of the worker fatalities resulting from being struck or run over by vehicles occur inside the work zone. Although the need for an organized system of traffic control within the worksite does not only apply to dump truck operations, it is very important that truck flow in, around and out of the site is controlled.

Dump truck drivers cannot see who or what is behind them when backing up, so try to eliminate or reduce the need for them to do so. That said, unlike a flat-bed truck delivering a load of pipe that will be unloaded by a crane, excavator or forklift, dump trucks must often backup to dump a load clear of the roadway. When it is necessary for a dump truck to move in reverse, an audible back-up warning device must be used or a spotter must be stationed to guide the driver back and ensure that workers do not walk, stand or kneel behind or near the truck when it is backing up. Currently OSHA is concerned about back-over incidents and is looking into updating the rule. It is considering whether back-up alarms are adequate or if workers would be better protected if the trucks are equipped with motion-sensing devices or cameras. For more information about preventing back-over incidents, visit www.osha.gov and search for preventing back-over incidents.

All workers inside the work zone who could be exposed to vehicle or equipment traffic should wear high-visibility (lime green or orange) clothing or work vests so they are easily visible to the driver. The clothing probably does not need to have reflective stripes that are required of workers exposed to traffic on the road, but you should check local and state requirements. The important thing is that the worker’s clothing prevents him or her from blending in with the surroundings. All workers should also be instructed to make eye contact with the driver before approaching a truck.

Distracted Driving

While we experience fewer fatalities in the workplace today, the leading cause of worker fatalities year-after-year are motor vehicle crashes, and distracted driving dramatically increases the risk of such crashes. Through OSHA, the Department of Labor is partnering with the Department of Transportation to combat distracted driving.

Cell phone use is also a major concern. Employers should prohibit any work policy or practice that requires or encourages workers to text while driving. Texting while driving greatly increases the risk of being injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash. For more information about distracted driving, visit OSHA’s web page and search for distracted driving.

A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rule restricts the use of all hand-held mobile devices by drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). The rule restricts a CMV driver from holding a mobile device to make a call or dialing by pressing more than a single button. CMV drivers who use a mobile phone while driving can only use a hands-free phone located in close proximity. Employers with fleet operations need to establish a cell phone use and texting policy that restricts the use of these devices while vehicles are moving.

Can’t Do Without Trucks

Dump trucks are vital to the construction industry, and contractors have a responsibility to ensure safety. Take some time to review and update your dump truck operations policies and procedures. Truck maintenance, driver qualification, safe operation practices, traffic control and distracted driving should all be part of your truck operations policy. Drivers, managers, mechanics and workers must also know the hazards associated with dump truck operations. Whether we’re talking about your trucks or those of a subcontractor, you are ultimately responsible for ensuring that injuries and fatalities don’t result from truck accidents that could have been prevented.

George Kennedy is NUCA’s vice president of safety.