Workplace Atvs: Weighing Risk Vs. Time Savings

According to a new bulletin issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration quoting the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans are experiencing

Bob Eckhardt

According to a new bulletin issued by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration quoting the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans are experiencing 11.3 fatalities and 162 recordable injuries annually through the use of all-terrain vehicles in the workplace. While some concrete producers use golf carts and similar vehicles for convenient transportation around the plant and yard, the OSHA bulletin suggests that using ATVs carries a risk.

Causes of the ATV incidents vary; however, OSHA’s report attributes about 30 percent of serious injuries and fatalities to unbalanced loads and loads exceeding the ATV’s specified limits. Half of the excessive loads involve an overloaded rear cargo rack. Also noted by OSHA as factors causing occupational accidents are operating at excessive speeds for the terrain/operation; running ATVs on paved roads; not wearing a protective helmet; insufficient or no training; and, carrying passengers. (The hazard of operating ATVs on paved roads is unclear, unless increased traffic presents a risk.)

In a study examining recreational use, 65 percent of ATV-related deaths in West Virginia involved head and neck injuries. Of these fatalities, 75 percent were attributed to not wearing a helmet. Incidence rates for golf cart use, while not provided for comparison, are thought to be much lower.

For large job sites requiring the use of ATVs, safety measures can mitigate risk. Recommendations for an ATV safety program include the following:

  • Train operators in the hazards of using an ATV. Include statistics indicating higher fatality rates among ATV users as compared to drivers of other vehicles, and emphasize the primary causes of incidents, such as carrying passengers, excessive speed, or overloading. Additionally, a much higher incidence rate occurs among new ATV users.
  • Establish workplace rules for ATV operation that specify speed limits and prohibit horseplay, such as performing wheelies or hot-rodding. Enforce the rules.
  • Require the use of personal protective equipment, including a DOT-approved helmet, appropriate boots, gloves, and goggles.

Before buying an ATV for a plant or jobsite, an evaluation of risk versus time savings is advisable. The OSHA report can be found at the agency’s website,, or specifically at


Documenting plant safety inspections can seem pointless, since the safety supervisor is in the plant or on the job site a good part of every day. The obvious question is, Why should I write everything down when I am out there looking right at it most of the day and know exactly what is going on?

The appropriate response is that a safety inspection form is not completed for the safety supervisor. The form provides documentation that the company evaluated items cited therein on a specific date. Such documents are necessary because weeks, months or even years after an incident, insurance adjusters and lawyers will determine the value in a Worker’s Compensation or a third-party action; and, safety inspection forms can verify safety measures implemented at the site for those not present at the time of the incident. Thus, what a safety supervisor knows means little Û what he or she documents and how it is documented mean everything.

Accordingly, the astute safety supervisor maintains exacting records, always indicating dates, writing legibly (for lawyers and jurors, in rare situations), and signing the forms. To serve as verification that safety is observed on the job site, documentation necessarily involves identifying safety problems and noting their resolution.

A perfect form, showing only checks in the OK column to indicate that no safety issues were observed, filed week after week simply to satisfy a paperwork metric is worse than foolish. Such a form suggests that safety is not taken seriously, regardless of the actual safety effort expended at the site.

A more serious misstep, perhaps, is listing on the inspection form safety problems identified, but not brought to resolution. Paperwork needs to confirm that all identified safety issues are resolved, i.e., the solution must be documented when safety problems are listed, or soon thereafter. After entering the observation Îsafety clips not inserted in air host couplings,Ì for example, an entry must state on the same form Û or a form for the next week or similar follow-up system Û that the item was corrected and the date on which it was accomplished.


Newly created safety teams are usually eager to do the right thing and get a safety program moving. Programs involving employee participation, however, may not be the best. In fact, employee involvement has been a fading fad since Total Quality Management hit U.S. entrepreneurs in the mid-1980s.

Critical to managing an effective team is not motivation, but rather, guiding its efforts to avoid disillusionment. Few safety teams are functional after a six-month period, due to a variety of issues.

One problem immediately encountered in using safety teams is their lack of professional safety knowledge. Though everyone thinks they know all that is needed about safety, the safety profession entails an accomplished skill requiring education and specific training Û it’s not as simple as it looks. Putting plant personnel on a financial team, purchasing team, or collections team would not be prudent; and, safety is not so different in many respects.

Classic illustrations of such an error are the back-belt craze and heedless acceptance of the accident pyramid. Both ideas seem so logical that few people questioned their function. Yet, when independent studies were performed, back belts were shown to provide little, if any, protection. Moreover, significant quantities of actual data applied to the 1932 pyramid theory resulted in squares, rectangles, inverted pyramids, broad-based flat pyramids, or other odd shapes: the neat equilateral pyramid could not be replicated. Managers who blindly accepted the theory concluded that employees were hiding incidents and near-misses, since data failed to conform to the triangular configuration. It all just seemed so logical, might have been a common refrain.

Team disillusionment can quickly set in following the first wave of enthusiastic recommendations to management. The cold reality is that safety is an expense, so recommendations Û to buy safety equipment, redesign plant equipment to make it safer, or implement new procedures or processes Û typically entail an evaluation by a skilled safety manager of real versus perceived risk. Thoroughgoing consideration of any proposal would involve office research time, phone calls, and sometimes sophisticated calculations. Lacking such resources to arrive at a decision, production team members may express their ignorance of how the safety process functions: What if a person is killed as a result of not doing this or that? You can’t put a value on a person’s life!

Another recurring problem is the typical team member’s lack of skill regarding financial evaluations. How much, if any, financial information is afforded the safety team is up to management, but revealing safety budgets can easily have disastrous results when uneducated or unskilled persons become decision makers. While safety funds initially may seem considerable, all can disappear long before the fiscal year is over, if the budget is not managed professionally. Consequently in financial straits, the plant manager is left in an embarrassing situation.

A more effective application of TQM principles is reversing the process by involving management staff, such as the safety supervisor and plant manager, in the work environment. Teaching professional personnel about production-efficiency losses due to building forms on the floor; working with fall-protection harnesses and lanyards, rather than providing walkways; working without adequate crane availability; and, wearing dust masks all day might be a more effective method of effecting quality safety decisions.

When a company decides TQM-style employee involvement in the safety process is desirable, the prudent manager should determine how involved unskilled or uneducated persons should be in making professional decisions often requiring expertise in several disciplines.


A convenient resource for industry-recognized illustrations, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers‘ (AEM) new online pictorial database offers images suitable for voluntary use in the design of equipment safety signs, manuals and other training materials. Having completed phase one of the database, AEM aims to promote greater consistency and clarity among pictorial images for easier recognition by industry workers to enhance safety. By increasing the use of common pictorials, we have a better chance that industry workers Û equipment operators, mechanics, electricians, laborers and others Û will better understand what those pictorials mean, affirms Mark Steffen, product safety manager of Caterpillar Inc., and chairman of the AEM Safety Sign Pictorial Committee, part of the Technical and Safety Council overseeing the pictorial database.

The pictorials are offered free of charge, saving manufacturers and others the time and cost of developing their own graphics. Accessible via the association’s website ( and searchable by categories and keywords, the database includes almost 100 pictorials common to many industry segments and product lines, covering both hazard identification and avoidance.


AEM’s Technical and Safety Council undertook development of the database at the request of association members who noted an array of images being used to convey similar safety hazard identification/avoidance messages. A hand-crush hazard, for example, is depicted by one manufacturer as a whole hand being crushed, while another manufacturer might show several smashed fingers. What we tried to achieve with the initial set-up of this database is to provide common pictorials that safety professionals can use, no matter the type of equipment or industry, Steffen explains.

Formed by AEM in 2004, the pictorial-development committee consists of over 24 association member-company representatives, who discussed and formulated plans for the database. Next, members of AEM’s product-oriented groups were solicited to provide pictorials. A task force of several member company safety experts was subsequently formed to review the hundreds and hundreds of pictorials the committee collected.

According to Terex Corp. Product Safety Manager Gregg Austin, who serves in a leadership role on the committee, the task force examined all submissions, grouped similar ones together, and then looked for commonality to recommend the graphics ultimately chosen. Once the initial review was complete, the task force submitted its selections to the larger committee for final approval.

Austin cites the ISO 7000 international standard as an example of AEM’s goal for the pictorial database (although AEM is not advocating a standard for pictorials). ISO 7000 sets international standards for control and display symbols on equipment ranging from photocopiers and fitness equipment to on-highway and off-highway vehicles. Thus, a high-beam symbol on a car should be identical to the high-beam symbol for farm tractors, earthmoving machines, and other types of off-road equipment. This is the kind of consistency AEM seeks to accomplish in the area of descriptive safety pictorials, Austin contends.


Plans are underway to expand the database with product- and process-specific graphics. Moreover, industries other than those represented by AEM may be included. For example, most of the association’s members manufacture mobile equipment, but stationary machinery employs similar safety messages, which may also benefit from greater pictorial consistency.

As the AEM pictorial database is meant to be a dynamic resource, the association invites input from database users and others with an interest in safety-related pictorials. Links have been provided for visitors to the online database to respond with questions, comments and recommendations. To further extend the utility of the database, AEM is soliciting other industry groups for ideas, suggestions and participation. While graphics not already included in the database can be submitted for consideration, AEM will continue to screen entries and apply a best-practices approach to prevent material from growing unwieldy.


The database is available at Images are downloadable in .eps and .dxf format. EPS images were saved in Adobe Illustrator 7.0, and DXF images were saved in AutoCAD 13. Fully scalable to required sizes, all pictorials can be imported into a variety of graphics programs. Images are in black and white; red color, primarily for fire and prohibitions, appears in a few of the pictorials and can be used at the user’s discretion. Pictorials are searchable by body area (arm, body, ears, eyes, head, etc.); hazard type (chemical, electrical, mechanical, thermal, etc.); and, action (burning, crushing, entanglement, explosion, flying object, etc.), as well as by keywords.

AEM emphasizes that the goal of the project is to develop greater consistency in safety communication Û not to establish standards or regulations. Furthermore, just as AEM relies on experts to screen submissions, the association notes the importance of a solid equipment-safety background for safety-message designers who use the pictorial database. Although editable, the images are best used as is to present a consistent look, the association asserts. Designers are also advised to consult all applicable laws, regulations and standards to assure proper compliance. More information on the pictorial database can be obtained by contacting AEM’s Dan Moss, 414/298-4149.