Backing Up Safely

If you drive a vehicle, you regularly put your car into reverse. This tends to become so mundane that we don’t even think twice about it, but it’s actually a risky activity. Every day incidents occur that involve backing into something and result in damage to a vehicle, an object, or both.

In the worst cases someone is injured. It could be someone you know or it could be you. Some people drive large vehicles or a fire apparatus with zero visibility out the back, making reversing even more serious. A backup camera might help address the lack of visibility, but it still doesn’t replace a good old fashioned reliable spotter to ensure that you are not going to hit something, much less someone, in one of the many blind spots a camera cannot see.

CSD Pool Incidents

From 2015 to 2019, CSD Pool members have had 116 backing incidents representing $330,000 in paid claims to fix vehicles and property. As you can see from the incident descriptions below, members have backed into a little bit of everything.

  • Fences
  • Parked vehicles (50 plus incidents)
  • Firehouse bay doors
  • Fire hydrants
  • Poles
  • Homeowner garages and irrigation timers
  • Curbs
  • Light poles
  • Concrete and steel bollards
  • Gates

These incidents are preventable if you have the right procedures in place and those procedures are followed.

Contributing Factors Leading to Incidents

The majority of the Pool’s claims had many of the same root causes:

  • Inadequate procedures
  • Lack of training
  • Lack of a spotter
  • Loss of visual contact with a driver and the driver did not stop
  • Inadequate communication
  • Lack of a proper safety walk-around to check for something in a blind spot
  • Backing up before looking behind you

Every single one of these root causes can have a corrective action to prevent the incident from recurring.

Best Practices

When it comes to safe backing, there are a lot of best practices and training that you can put in place to help reduce or eliminate backing incidents in your workplace.

  • Institute a vehicle walk-around policy
  • Put a small cone or magnet on the vehicle so that it forces the employee to complete a walk-around.
  • Ensure windows are clear from ice, snow, and fog before reversing or driving out of a parking lot.
  • Stress to all that pull-through parking is preferred.
  • Back up into parking spots so that all you have to do is put the vehicle in park and pull forward.
  • If there are two people in a vehicle, require that the passenger get out to help spot the vehicle backing up.
  • Use a trained spotter every time
  • Put disciplinary actions in place if someone backs into something
    • Ex. Take away driving privileges for a certain amount of time
  • Institute standard hand signals for backing up while occupying or using a district vehicle or truck:
    • Standard hand signal example:
      • Stop – both arms crossed with the hands in a complete fist.
      • Straight back – both hands above the head with the palm away from the driver, waving backward.
  • Turn (left or right) using both arms pointing in the same direction with index fingers fully extended.

Implementing best practices and the right procedures can do wonders for preventing backing incidents and accidents like damaged vehicles. They might not seem like much, but little things go a long way.

The Road Cone Policy

Before the days of backup cameras in every vehicle I was part of a team of roughly 1,200 people and we had a three month stretch where we had a backup incident nearly every few days. The incidents were not too serious but we have had damaged bumpers on many of our vehicles.

Because of this, we took on an approach that was very aggressive toward safety and doing the right thing. Initially, the program didn’t have a lot of fans because it meant being more careful, but we saved a lot of money on bumper replacement.

First we implemented a road safety cone policy. We purchased small three to four inch orange road safety cones for every vehicle. These cones were placed on the front passenger side on the radio antenna or on the window under the wiper blade.

Because we already required backing into every parking spot, someone would approach the vehicle from the passenger side of the vehicle, remove the cone, and then go around the back to search for anything that could be in front of or behind a vehicle before they start driving away. This ensured that the employee took a 360 degree visual of all the way around the vehicle’s surroundings before they drove away. This saved a lot of small accidents and bumper damage.

Spotter Policy

Along with the cone policy we implemented a safety policy that required the passenger to get out of the vehicle to help signal the driver when backing into a parking spot. Of course, we trained everyone on proper hand signals as well. That was an important component that saved us from a lot of damage to our vehicles

The few vehicles that had backup cameras were still required to have someone signal for them, but they had an extra set of eyes directly behind them so it was a good thing.

As soon as these additions to our policy were implemented our incidents declined heavily. Just a few small tweaks and a willingness for a culture change went a long way. Imagine now a time when your district might institute these policies or some like them and how your district safety and vehicle backing incidents might decline heavily as well. This could help your Pool contribution rates too in the long run.

In addition to a few extra policies our maintenance team had some pink magnets made up that said “I did not complete my walk-around.” These magnets were placed on the cars themselves. These magnets proved to be a fun reminder to help ensure everyone fully completed their walk-around every time they occupied a vehicle for their work. When we saw someone with a magnet driving around they were always given a hard time which helped get them to change their behavior.

It was all in good fun, and now today most of those employees do often think to look behind their trucks before pulling out to go to a work site or other place.

Wrapping it Up

Before you put your vehicle in reverse, make sure that there is nothing and no one in your line of travel. Know where you are going and be aware of your surroundings 100% of the time. This is important to refining the best possible outcome for district safety and vehicle safety at your workplace. District management and board have a fiduciary duty to ensure safety and compliance for all district employees as much as they can.

If you haven’t already implemented at least a few small changes to your policies to ensure that backing incidents are eliminated at your district, we would be happy to help you figure out the best course of action for your given situation.

Purchases like back-up cameras are eligible for reimbursement of 50% with your Safety and Loss Prevention Grant funds.

Don’t hesitate to contact your Safety Management Consultant Adam Johnsen, our loss prevention specialist, at to get started today on working toward building a better and safer safety culture at your district by creating policies of safer backing for your vehicles.

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