There was a recent incident at a school project in Maine worth reviewing. It involved a dump truck that backed into a propane tank fill pipe. Once the pipe was broken, the propane discharged and ignited. The truck driver was burned as he escaped the cab and luckily will recover, but was fortunate to have walked away at all.
During the incident investigation, one item stood out as the root cause: communications. Simply put, the driver and the spotter directing the truck had a signaling breakdown. The cardinal sin of directing construction vehicles was broken—the driver lost sight of the signal man and before you knew it, all hell broke loose.
It's probably impossible to calculate how many vehicles are backing up on job sites each day across the nation. But the National Safety Council reports that one out of every four accidents can be blamed on poor backing techniques. The reason that most backings are uneventful is directly related to qualified drivers and qualified signalers doing their jobs.
When do you need a signal person? Basic hazard evaluation will determine that. Are you in a field with nobody around or on a job site with a hundred people scurrying about? Factor in other risks such as other equipment moving about, blind spots and potential property damage, and the need for someone dedicated to the safe movement of a vehicle is very clear.
Should you need to train employees involved with backing operations, there are many websites and documents available. One website I recommend often is www.toolboxtopics.com. It has a brief but concise lesson plan titled Heavy Equipment Backing that covers the basics.
As always, once the basics are established, project management must add the finer details to monitor overall compliance.