Reversing – Serious Business

It’s not every day you take a call from the Coroner’s office, and it is certainly not one I expected. It did, however, start an interesting chain of events. The story was tragic, and completely preventable – an elderly pedestrian fatally run over by a reversing truck.

The Coroner was asking for some expert opinion on preventing this sort of event and after reviewing the details, it was clear that, as an industry, we are missing some critical points. In this case, the driver had a swamper and was being guided while backing up. Unfortunately, some shortcuts were used and an accident resulted.

Being a safety person my immediate questions were; did that swamper ever receive training on guiding and spotting; was there a clear assignment of responsibility, and, were expectations of performance communicated? Too often, we have done a job so frequently that we overlook the lack of experience and knowledge others have when we ask them to help. For many this is a chance to play with a big truck so of course, they jump right in, but as we say in the safety game, ‘you don’t know, what you don’t know.’ (Think about that).

That started me thinking about the many situations drivers commonly encounter where they get well-meaning but inadequate assistance for a difficult maneuver, and two issues surfaced. The lack of knowledge in the willing but inexperienced helper; and, the lack of a model for drivers who may have to communicate those basics to the new or temporary helper.

Two different things but miss either and the potential for disaster is frightening.

To address that gap we started looking at creating a short training piece useable by anyone, anywhere. Something that focused on the non-driver, (drivers already know how to maneuver in reverse). Something short, that didn’t need you in a classroom for 8 hours just to guide a truck. Something that covered the basic skills and hazards around guiding a reversing vehicle.

I proudly produced my first script and thought, ”20 minutes needed to cover everything. No, that is way too long”. I had fallen into the trap of giving too much information for a simple job, so back to the drawing board to get it right.

It took time and hard work to get things just right, but all we needed to communicate was the essentials, not the extras. The result is a streamlined, five-minute video, which covers the essential basics of guiding a reversing vehicle in three general areas. Hand signals; responsibilities; and hazards to the vehicle and the guide. Just the essential skills for anyone who needs to understand the basic job of guiding a vehicle safely.

The video is great for everyone. Drivers get exactly what they need to communicate to an untrained or impromptu guide, and the guide gets the essential information without overload or classroom tedium. More importantly, everyone understands the hazards, and how to deal with them.

Check out the video and send a link to anyone who might be in the position of guiding a reversing vehicle as part of their job or at home.   Let’s prevent tragedies like the one that created this video.

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Earl has more than 20 years of road experience. He started with long haul and later swapped the transportation of packages for people. Working as a professional bus driver driving intercity and charter buses, his favourite destination was Reno, NV. Moving into the position of driver instructor was a natural progression that he enjoyed for the challenges it provided.

Earl has a Diploma of Technology in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) from the BC Institute of Technology and is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP). He is responsible for providing OHS advisory services to companies, developing the SafetyDriven OHS programs and curriculum, as well as research regarding health and safety in the trucking industry.

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  • Good video,,,,, just wondering why the inattentive texter was a female and the “professional guide” was represented as male.

  • Thanks for your observation Bev. The gender issue was never considered when making this video. My Granddaughter was available and took direction well, but I agree that gender and competence are not related. I hope you will still use the video even with my oversight.