The Occupational Safety & Health Administration established standards for the use of backup alarms on construction vehicles and material handling equipment because of the widespread danger posed to people on the site. Between 2001 and 2004, OSHA had to investigate eight incidents of workers killed by construction vehicles backing up without alarms. While most backup alarms are single-tone and loud, OSHA has given employers the flexibility to use new technology that meets their regulatory requirements and contributes less to noise pollution.
Specifying the Trigger
OSHA doesn’t have any requirements for back-up alarms in its general industry standards, but it does have requirements in its Construction Safety and Health Regulations. For construction sites, the OSHA regulations are 29 CFR Part 1926.601(b)(4) and 1926.602(a)(9)(ii). You can’t use a motor vehicle or material handling equipment with an obstructed view unless the vehicle or equipment has a reverse signal alarm above the surrounding noise level or an observer signals that it’s safe to move. The employer of the motor vehicle or material handling equipment determines the surrounding noise level as well as an appropriate alarm.
If you’re working completely alone on an off-highway construction site, OSHA doesn’t require a back-up alarm. However, if you’re working alone but employees from another employer are working on the site and there’s no observer or signaler for your motor vehicle, then OSHA requires a back-up alarm. The primary consideration is if your motor vehicle or material handling equipment poses a hazard to other people when moving in reverse.
Instead of using a backup alarm, you can install a camera system on the rear of the vehicle that operates day and night. The system needs to coordinate with a monitoring system inside the cab. As long as the camera provides the driver with an unobstructed view of the path behind the motor vehicle or material handling equipment, you don’t need the backup alarm. While a camera system may be less noisy than an alarm, it may prove more costly to install.
Using Different Technology
Most backup alarms are single tone with a volume ranging from 97 to 112 decibels. If you have several alarms sounding off at a construction site, you may incur the wrath of your neighbors. Employers have asked OSHA if they can use other types of warning systems, such as a motion-sensing system or a radar/Doppler. According to OSHA, you can use these systems in place of backup alarms as long as workers who are traveling toward the path are given enough warning to avoid danger of contact.
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: 1926 Safety and Health Regulations for Construction
- Environmental Health Perspectives: Vehicle Motion Alarms: Necessity, Noise Pollution, or Both?
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Letter Re: Permissible Methods of Operating Trucks in Reverse on Construction Sites
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Compliance Issues Relating to Backup Alarms
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Letter to Ryan Wilson
Kay Tang is a journalist who has been writing since 1990. She previously covered developments in theater for the "Dramatists Guild Quarterly." Tang graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in economics and political science from Yale University and completed a Master of Professional Studies in interactive telecommunications at New York University.