I was talking with a surveyor recently just outside his office. As we were wrapping up our conversation, one of his crew vehicles pulled into the parking lot. Two workers got out of the van, and one opened the passenger-side door to retrieve some equipment. What I observed about that vehicle in just a couple of minutes could have generated both OSHA and law enforcement citations, not to mention possible worker injuries or fatalities.
The first thing I noticed was how items were stored in the vehicle. The worker was retrieving an equipment case that was sitting on the floor behind the front seats. The case was not secured, and there was nothing cradling the case that would have kept it from becoming a flying projectile in the event of a sudden stop or wreck. There was also no barrier between the storage area and the front passenger compartment. Everything in the back end of a vehicle should always be secured. Flying tools and equipment can cause serious injuries and even a fatality if a traffic accident occurs.
As I looked to the left, I noticed a five-gallon plastic gasoline container on the floor in the back. The container was not an approved safety can with a spring loaded lid, and it wasn’t secured in any way. There were some wooden tool storage bins and four safety cones in the same location.
We opened the rear door of the vehicle, and I saw that the gasoline container was almost full. The driver of the vehicle commented that he ran out of gasoline once and liked to keep a full can of fuel with him at all times. However, he had bigger things to worry about than running out of fuel. For one thing, the cheap plastic gasoline containers can’t be used for any commercial business and really shouldn’t be used at all.
Additionally, the crew had lost the cap for the nozzle and had stuck a blue paper towel from the filling station into the end. (We normally call this a Molotov cocktail.) Since the can wasn’t secured, it could become a projectile during an accident with the added danger of everything being covered in gasoline. (As a side note, I have a real problem with anyone carrying liquid flammables inside a vehicle. There is just too much danger in the event of an accident.)
There was also rebar stacked above a small wooden case just in front of the gasoline can. Even if there wasn’t an accident, it wouldn’t be difficult to puncture the plastic can and leak gasoline inside the vehicle. We just went from a Molotov cocktail to a rolling bomb!
I also noticed a bench-type seat along the side of the vehicle behind the driver’s seat. This appeared to be the seat that was originally installed in the van. I was told it was moved to the side position to allow longer material to be carried in the van while providing extra seating for an additional crew member who occasionally rode with them to a work site.
There were a number of problems with this seat. First, it wasn’t secured to the vehicle in any way. When placing additional seating, it is important to make certain it is secured with the same grade of bolts used at the factory and fastened to the original holes. Ideally, someone from a factory-authorized dealer should secure the seat to make certain it meets all safety requirements.
Second, no seat belts were provided, despite the use of seat belts being a requirement in many, if not most, states. The icing on the cake was a two-pound, short-handled hammer lying on the seat. This would be another projectile in the event of a wreck.
I looked a little more and saw a machete inside a scabbard resting unsecured on the top of some flagging tape in the back of the van. All of the stitches were out on one side of the scabbard, and the blade was inserted with the sharp part on that side. It reminded me of the knife throwers that used to appear on the Ed Sullivan show. Blindfolded, these individuals would throw knives at balloons surrounding a woman on a board in an attempt to burst the balloons without harming the woman. The only difference is that the knife-throwing stunt was a trick, and no knives were actually thrown; with a wreck in this van, the stunt would be real!
There were still some other issues that needed to be addressed. For example, the van had no rear windows, just exterior mirrors. This meant the driver had a large blind spot directly behind the van. I checked to see whether the van had a backup alarm installed, but it did not.
I then asked the crew whether there was a first aid kit in the van. They proudly produced a small kit containing a pair of scissors, two Band-Aids, and a small roll of gauze. I then asked if they had a fire extinguisher. They did, but it hadn’t been inspected in the four years since they had purchased it. We tested it, and there was no pressure.
I observed all of these problems in less than two minutes. My original objective had been to develop a proposal for a written safety program and employee training for the surveying firm. After the two-minute inspection, I was hired on the spot. The firm corrected all of the problems in its van within a few days.
When was the last time you inspected your vehicles for safety violations? A quick, two-minute inspection daily by your crews can avert the potential for citations, injury or even death. It’s definitely worth the time.