Contractors Have a Duty to Guard Against Heavy Equipment Backover Accidents

In recent years, the construction industry has been thriving in the greater Boston area. Construction in Boston, Quincy, and front-end-loader-opt-300x200Cambridge came in at a whopping $14.3 billion in 2018, up 20% from the previous year, according to a recent report.

As new construction sites pop up in the area, new hazards emerge, posing threats to workers and pedestrians passing by. Backover accidents are, particularly on the rise.  Backover accidents are crashes that occur when a driver reverses into and injures or kills a pedestrian. The pedestrian may be another construction worker or a nearby civilian.

Worksites utilizing heavy equipment increase the risks of back up maneuver accidents. Heavy equipment operators often cannot see what is happening behind them when they back up and drive in reverse. These workers sit high above the ground, impairing their ability to see what’s happening at ground level. They rely on spotters and other devices to ensure the vehicle’s enormous blind spots are accounted for.

In fact, statistics indicate that approximately 30% of construction accidents occur when vehicles and heavy machinery are backing up.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates approximately 210 workers were struck by and killed from backing vehicles between 2011 and 2013, another 15,000 were injured.

In 2014, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) reviewed reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and found 443 construction accidents from 2003 to 2010 due to backover accidents on construction worksites.

When an excavator, dump truck, backhoe, or other machinery backs up into a pedestrian or worker, serious injuries are likely to result. A mid-size excavator can weigh up to 10 tons. Even at slow speeds, these mammoths of machinery can wreak havoc when making contact with a person, causing severe injuries and permanent disability. Broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, spine injuries, paralysis, and amputations are just some of the serious and debilitating injuries caused by heavy equipment backover accidents. In the most severe cases, these accidents can be fatal.

Who’s to Blame When Heavy Equipment Backs Up Into a Pedestrian?

You might think that the heavy equipment operator bears sole responsibility for a backover accident. That’s not always the case. There are often multiple parties that share some liability when a construction accident occurs, and a bystander is injured.

Contractors are responsible for maintaining safe worksites for their employees, any subcontractors, and the public at large.

If a defective piece of equipment caused the backing up accident, the equipment manufacturer could be held liable for any injuries through a product liability claim. Companies have a duty to manufacture a defect-free product and must ensure that the product includes adequate warnings and instructions. Companies who leased, distributed, marketed, or sold the equipment may also be at fault for your injuries.

Other parties that can be held liable for backover accidents include the equipment operator, other workers at the job site, subcontractors, companies responsible for servicing and maintaining the machinery, and the owner of the property where the accident occurred.

Every accident is different. A skilled construction accident attorney can investigate the particulars of your backover accident case and identify all potentially liable parties.

While Massachusetts laws prevent employees from suing their employers for work-related injuries, injured construction workers have some rights. Construction workers injured in heavy equipment backover accidents are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. These benefits include coverage of your medical treatment, replacement of lost wages, and payment for permanent loss of function, scarring, and disfigurement caused by the work accident. You can read more about workers’ compensation in Massachusetts at mass.gov or by contacting the workers’ compensation attorneys at the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, LLC at 617-367-2900.

I’ve Been Injured in a Heavy Equipment Backover Accident. Now What?

After you’ve been injured in any type of heavy equipment accident, you should obtain prompt medical treatment. Your health must always be your first priority.

If it is safe to do so, take pictures of your injuries, the accident site, and any bystanders who saw what happened. Take additional pictures of your injuries throughout the recovery process, documenting how it progresses and heals.

Contact a construction accident attorney as soon as possible. An attorney will look at your case’s particular circumstances and will evaluate who is at fault for your accident. Some questions your attorney will look to answer include:

Did the heavy equipment operator have adequate training? Construction companies have a duty to ensure that workers are properly trained to operate the equipment that they’re assigned. Training should include identifying the blind spots for each piece of equipment and learning to safely work around them. Blindspot diagrams are available that pinpoint the blind spots for specific construction vehicles, including bulldozers, dump trucks, and loaders.

Was there a communication system being used at the construction site? Communication systems prevent accidents. Because construction sites are noisy, workers usually are unable to talk or even yell to equipment operators. Hand signals are a common method used to instruct an equipment operator to stop, back up, or perform another task.

Did the machinery have a working backup alarm that was loud enough to be heard through the construction site’s noise? If not, did the contractor or someone else at the job site know that the backup alarm was broken?

Was the construction site set up in a way that minimized backing up maneuvers? Pre-project planning and internal traffic control plans can eliminate or greatly decrease the need for heavy equipment backups and reduce backover accidents.

Was the worksite properly marked? Barricades, signs, fencing, and flaggers can help mark off a construction site and warn pedestrians of any dangers.

Was there a spotter supervising the backup? Safety groups, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), recommend using spotters to prevent backover accidents.

Did the equipment have working video equipment? Or other technology such as radar or sonar that has the ability to detect people or objects?

Was the heavy machinery defective or malfunctioning? If so, had it been properly serviced and maintained? Did the operator perform a “walk-around” and check the equipment before his shift?

Was the equipment operator under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs?

The answers to these questions will determine the success chances of your heavy equipment backup accident case, as well as how much compensation you may be entitled to receive.

Contractors typically have an obligation to keep construction sites safe. Most backup accidents that do happen can be avoided and prevented if the appropriate safety measures are taken. Utilizing Internal Traffic Control Plans (ITCPs) can greatly limit the risk of a backover accident. ITCPs organize construction sites to direct the flow of traffic for pedestrians and vehicles, cordon off specific areas for backup maneuvers, and limit interaction between heavy equipment and pedestrians.

To learn about how the construction accident attorneys at The Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman, LLC can provide assistance with a heavy equipment backover accident claim, contact our law firm today at (617) 367-2900 or via our online form.

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