Most drivers spend less than 1 percent of their driving time in reverse. However, national statistics indicate that about one-quarter of all collisions occur while backing up. Driving a large collection vehicle in reverse requires special care to ensure that pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers of other vehicles, and fellow workers are safe, and property is protected.
By Will Flower

Waste collection and recycling trucks are large vehicles that require special skills to operate. Reversing the truck requires practice and patience. While it is impossible to completely avoid backing, drivers should try to eliminate unnecessary backing whenever possible. Driver decisions, including the entry to and exit from a customer’s location, should be evaluated for efficiency and safety. Dangerous stops along a route should be changed, if possible. In some cases, it may be possible to reposition a container to allow for the servicing of the container in a safe manner.

Windows and mirrors should be clean and properly adjusted to provide a clear view of the direction of travel while backing.

Staying Safe
Regular safety training covering the backing of collection vehicles should include the use of clear hand signals, adjustment and use of mirrors, use of rear pointing cameras, and proper safety checks to make sure lights and back up alarms are in proper working condition.

  • The following are some basic tips to stay safe when backing a vehicle.
  • Use your mirrors—Make sure mirrors are properly adjusted to give you a view of your surroundings. Cracked or missing mirrors must be replaced. Additionally, mirrors should be clean and free of ice and dirt to allow a clear view of the direction you are heading.
  • Use a spotter—If available, use a spotter to help you reverse the vehicle. Always keep your spotter in view. Immediately stop your  vehicle if you lose site of the spotter. The driver and spotter should use hand signals that are clear and understood by both the driver and the spotter.
  • Reverse slowly—Reverse slowly and maintain steering control. Do not rush! Creep or use an idle speed when backing. While in
    reverse, drivers should cover the brake with their foot and keep the backing distance to a minimum.
    Use cameras and detection systems—Cameras and rear sensors are helpful tools that can be used to prevent backing accidents. The use of rear facing camera systems in vehicles can help minimize blind spots.
  • Keep helpers in sight—Working at the rear of a vehicle can place helpers at risk when backing. Drivers should never back their vehicles while a helper is riding on a rear step. Additionally, if you are in reverse and lose sight of a helper, immediately stop the truck until you can see that everyone is safe.
  • Personal Protective Equipment—Every worker needs to use PPE, including high visibility clothing (vests or shirts).
    Make sure backup alarms are working—Backup alarms are loud and annoying … they are supposed to be so that you can hear a truck or piece of equipment that is reversing. Drivers must regularly check to make sure the backup alarm on the vehicle is in good working order.
  • Get out and look—Walk around the vehicle and look for obstacles or hazards before moving. Professional drivers know where they are going and will get out of the truck to check their surroundings prior to reversing. Clear the area of any movable obstacles such as pallets, nails, screws, and bolts.
  • Know the clearances—Watch out for overhead power lines, tree limbs, or any other obstructions that you may encounter.
  • Never make assumptions—Never assume people will stop or not walk behind a backing vehicle. If a driver sees someone in the mirror, stop until the individual is clear and in a safe position.
  • Avoid distractions—Turn off the music when preparing to drive in reverse. Silence the phone and remove all other distractions that can draw attention away from safely backing.
  • When in doubt, STOP—Drivers sometimes need to stop and look at the situation. Walking around a vehicle can provide a view of the backing area and any limitations. Walking around can also provide information on other potential dangers including low hanging wires and trees, road conditions, tire hazards, etc.
New drivers should practice reversing and use their mirrors as a guide for safe backing.
Photos courtesy of Winters Bros.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Supervisors should share tips and coach new drivers on safe backing practices. Giving new drivers time to practice reversing the vehicle in a remote and safe area is a good idea. Drivers should be reminded that every backing situation is different. Drivers and helpers who routinely service the same location still need to check and be aware of their surroundings every time the vehicle is placed into reverse. Ongoing safety training and reminding drivers about safe backing tips and using safe backing techniques will reduce the risk of accidents while backing up. With a little extra care and attention, we can reverse much safer and contribute towards making roads safer. | WA

Will Flower is the Senior Vice President of Corporate and Public Affairs at Winters Bros. Waste Systems.

Share your safety tip. Submit your suggestions to Will Flower at [email protected].