Back it up

On June 1, 2011, labourer Takis Escoto was working as part of a seven-man crew for a paving company to install a new water main and sewer lines on McKay Avenue in Windsor, Ont.

Near the end of his 12-hour shift, he was struck by a front-end loader backing down the road. Suffering from a crushed chest and internal bleeding, 34-year-old Escoto died.

At the coroner’s inquest, Adrien Leblanc, an occupational health and safety inspector with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, stated that his investigation found the front-end loader did in fact have enough room to turn around to travel to the location where the driver was piling the debris.

“There clearly was a practical alternative to reversing the vehicle,” Leblanc testified.

Leblanc’s investigation identified additional ways safety could have been improved on the construction site, such as the use of more safety signs and a signal person to help direct the reversing construction vehicle.

Despite a growing emphasis on health and safety in the construction industry, struck-by accidents continue to be one of the three most common lost-time injuries on the job site, according to WorkSafeBC. Three-quarters of struck-by fatalities involve heavy equipment, such as trucks or cranes, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States. Struck-by accidents can also include injuries from equipment breaking, earth collapsing and falling or flying objects, such as work tools, construction materials or debris.

Risk, hazard assessments

Risk assessments that take into account the perspective of each worker are crucial for helping to prevent struck-by accidents.
“Every person on the job needs to ask ‘If we do this, what are the hazards on this particular job and how can we prevent them?’ Everyone has a responsibility to watch out for each other and everyone has a right to stop work if they are facing a dangerous situation that needs to be addressed,” says Graham Linton, safety specialist for Vallen in Edmonton.

For example, workers positioned below overhead work are at risk of being struck by falling construction pieces or tools, so those working at heights should use lanyards or tethers to secure tools to their harnesses or tool belts. And areas below overhead work should be cordoned-off.

The risk assessment should determine the level of high-visibility safety apparel (HVSA) required for the job. It should consider the type and nature of work being performed, the environment, sight lines and visual distractions on-site.

Construction workers should be educated about the class of HVSA that is appropriate for their situation, with an understanding of why they would need to move from one level of coverage and visibility to another.

The CSA standard for high visibility clothing has three classes:
• ?class 1 provides the lowest recognized coverage and good visibility
• ?class 2 provides moderate body coverage and superior visibility
• ?class 3 provides the greatest body coverage and visibility under poor light conditions and at great distance.

Another effective practice to prevent struck-by accidents is to perform daily hazard assessments to identify and implement safety practices on the job site.

“At the start of every shift, every day, work sites should be conducting a safety meeting to talk about the job and the hazards, so that every worker is aware of the risks and safety measures when they are heading into their task,” says Linton.

Wanda Balsor, safety services manager for ENNIS Safety Services in Kentville, N.S., emphasizes the importance of avoiding complacency when it comes to performing hazard assessments on a daily basis.

“We often hear people say they take too long, but it shouldn’t take any more than 10 minutes,” says Balsor. “When hazard identification is part of your everyday routine, you’re better aware of contractors on-site that day and employees are quicker to identify and control potential struck-by hazards that may come into play while work is being performed.”

Other best practices include separating workers from moving equipment on construction sites and eliminating or reducing the need for vehicles to operate in reverse.

“If it’s absolutely necessary to have workers in the area, you want to ensure there is control over worker travel, such as established walking routes and a designated signaller who is in visual and radio communication with the operator,” says Linton.

Training for young workers

Workers under 25 years old have a 200 per cent higher chance of being injured in a struck-by accident than workers who are over the age of 55, according to Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).

“Unfortunately, the first incident for a worker is often their last incident. The technical side of hazard controls and personal protective equipment is so important in enhancing safety. Workers need to be educated on every aspect of safety before they go to work because it isn’t enough to learn safety on the job,” says Linton.

It’s important that training meets every learning style and is delivered with the appropriate learning objectives in mind, says Balsor.
“If that isn’t happening, then employees are not engaged and they are missing what they need to learn.”

When seasoned employees are available to share their struck-by accident experiences or near misses with new workers, it helps make the learning tangible and further motivates young workers to pay attention to the prevention of struck-by accidents on the job.

Even though younger workers are statistically more likely to be involved in accidents, seasoned workers continue to be at risk and need to stay aware of changes to processes, personal protective equipment standards and advances in the industry.

When workers are promoted to roles with increased responsibility, a needs assessment should be performed and incorporated into a training plan. This ensures the new supervisor can handle an increased role in maintaining health and safety on the job site, and that he is able to identify potential struck-by hazards as the equipment and processes evolve.

“Often we’ll see an employee get promoted to supervisor and the only thing that changes is that they’re getting more pay, but in their new role they have more responsibility for safety and they need to learn the skills to properly coach employees,” says Bob Neilson, health and safety consultant for ENNIS Safety Services.

All employees and employers have a role to play in decreasing struck-by injury rates, which are still high across Canada. The same types of struck-by injuries are happening today that were happening in the 1990s, says Balsor.

“Until there is an increased focus on risk assessment and ensuring that every person on the job fully understands hazard identification and can perform it for themselves — every day on every job — we will be spinning on this topic of struck-by injury prevention for a long time to come.”

Stacy Kindopp is a freelance writer ?based in Calgary. She can be ?reached at [email protected]. 

This article originally appeared in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of COS.