The backhoe is perhaps the most commonly used heavy equipment in construction. It is also a machine that needs to be operated with great care, as even the smallest of mistakes can put the operator as well as those who are nearby at high risk.
While backhoes and loaders are in some ways similar to tractors, the risk of accidents is much more significant because they have additional features, which make them more substantial than many of the machines used on farms, ranches, and outdoor worksites. This is why excavation – which involves the use of backhoe loaders – is considered a dangerous, high-risk activity by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that between 1992 and 2000, a total of 346 workers died as a result of backhoe accidents. OSHA reports indicate that on average, backhoe accidents are responsible for at least two fatalities and dozens of injuries every single month across the country.
The most common types of backhoe accidents are:
- When the machine overturns and crushes someone.
- When the load bucket strikes or crushes someone.
- When the machine runs over someone.
- When people get trapped between the machine and another object.
- When the machine makes contact with a live power line, which results in an electrocution.
The most effective way to prevent or at least reduce the risk of backhoe loader accidents is to understand what causes the accidents in the first place and to learn how to operate the equipment safely.
Common Causes of Backhoe Loader Accidents
- A backhoe loader can easily overturn if you drive it too fast or try to make a sharp turn while going uphill or downhill along a steep slope. It can also overturn if you raise the loaded bucket too high while making a turn or while operating the equipment on an uneven surface.
- Operating the backhoe without the shields can increase the risk of accidents considerably. Similarly, wearing loose clothing is also very risky, since it could quickly get caught in a moving part of the machine.
- Starting the backhoe loader in gear is very dangerous, especially if there are people nearby. If any of them happen to be directly in front of or behind the wheels, they might not have enough time to get out of the way before the machine starts moving and might get run over as a result.
- If the backhoe hits an obstruction such as a tree stump or rolls into a ditch or a hole, it could overturn. The operator and person who is riding along could fall off and get smashed or get injured.
- If the load being moved is not secured correctly with ropes, chains, or cables, it could fall on someone. In some cases, the loader itself could fall on someone and crush them due to cable failure or if the operator is inattentive.
- Workers slipping and falling while getting on and off backhoe loaders is also something that happens regularly due to various reasons – not being careful with the foot and hand placement, not maintaining the three-point contact (two feet and one hand or two hands and one foot) at all times and trying to mount or dismount while the machine is on the move.
- Accidents can also happen while transporting backhoes and loaders, especially if they are not securely attached to the trailer or truck.
Backhoe and Loader Operation – Safety Tips
- There are times when you need to slow down as much as possible – while moving up and down a steep slope, while moving heavy loads, while operating on uneven surfaces, while making a turn with a heavy load, and while running the equipment on public roadways.
- Never try to mount or dismount while the equipment is on the move. Go through the instruction manual carefully, familiarize yourself with the controls, and make sure the equipment is in proper working condition before operating it and certainly before doing anything that is tiring with the machine.
- Make sure no one is close to the wheels (or tracks) – either at the front or the back – before you start moving the equipment. Keep an eye on the ditches, tree stumps, holes, undercut banks, low hanging wires, and other such obstacles nearby. Locate all the underground power, phone, and gas lines in the area before you start excavating.
- Operate the equipment only from your seat while in a proper seated position. Make sure the load being moved does not exceed the equipment’s maximum weight capacity. Secure the bundle with chains, cables, and ropes to make sure it does not slip out or fall off while being moved.
- You should be cautious while lifting bales, poles, and other such objects that are round in shape. If you raise the loaded bucket too high or tip it too far back, these objects could easily slide down the loader arms and fall on you.
- If the bucket is in a raised position all the time, it not only can obstruct your vision but also affect the stability of the equipment. So, it should be kept low and raised only when you need to dump the load. When you do raise it, look out for power lines that might be in your way. Also, make sure no one walks under it under any circumstances.
- If you need to backfill, make sure the surface is stable enough to withstand the weight of the loader as well as that of the fill material. Otherwise, the excavation site could collapse.
- The frontend loader is meant to lift objects, not human beings. If there is a problem with the hydraulic system or if someone touches any of the controls inadvertently, the person being raised might fall and get hurt or even get run over by the machine.
- Every time you start the equipment, make sure it is not in gear. Make sure the rear view mirror is clean, and the loading bucket is low so that you can see what is at the front and back of the machine. Use the backup alarms to alert people when the machine is in reverse gear.
- Whenever you want to get off the machine, make sure it has stopped moving by turning off the engine and applying the parking brake. Also, make sure the bucket and the backhoe are in a lowered position.
Watch YouTube Video: John Deer Backhoe Loader Safety Tips. This video provides basic machine operational safety tips.
California Employer Responsibilities
Employers operating in the private sector in California are responsible for ensuring compliance with the applicable workplace health and safety laws of the state. Cal/OSHA or the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health is tasked with overseeing and enforcing these laws. Employers that fall short of their responsibilities in this area stand to face significant penalties for non-compliance. For more information, click here.
Sacramento Backhoe & Loader Accident Lawyer
I’m Ed Smith, a Backhoe Accident Lawyer in Sacramento. Workers often suffer injuries when their machine fails to work or malfunctions due to a manufacturing defect. If you or a family member has been injured in a backhoe loader accident, call me at 916-584-9355 for a free consultation.
I’ve helped many clients in Sacramento and Northern California with personal injury and wrongful death cases for 36 years. My firm is dedicated to helping injured workers get the compensation they are entitled to so that they can continue to support their families.
Photo by Pixabay.com
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