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March 04, 2013
Hazard identification: Deaths and injuries from ATVs are increasing; Precautions for employers

What do you do when a truck isn't the right vehicle, but a tractor won't do the job either?

The answer is often the four-wheeler, also called an all-terrain vehicle or ATV. Farmers in Japan first began using these versatile vehicles in the 1960s. Today, in the United States, more than 11 million ATVs are driven for both work and recreation.

If you operate ATVs in your workplace, read on to learn how to help ensure that these vehicles remain useful without becoming deadly.

Rise of the ATVs

Most work-related use of ATVs is in agriculture. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), however, reports that these vehicles are also increasingly used in border patrol and security, construction operations, emergency medical response, search and rescue, law enforcement and military operations, land management and surveying, mineral and oil exploration, pipeline maintenance, small-scale forestry activities, and wildland fire control.

Like other vehicles, ATVs pose risks to operators and others. From 1992 to 2007, nearly 300 workers were killed in incidents involving ATVs, with the number of annual incidents increasing over time, NIOSH reported in October 2012.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has tracked deaths and injuries from ATVs since 1985. Each year since 2001, the CPSC has recorded more than 100,000 injuries—in some years, ATV accidents caused as many as 150,000 injuries, many of them serious, disabling injuries, including brain and spinal cord injuries.

Practice tip

ATVs are not designed for use on concrete or paved roads. The difficulty of controlling an ATV on pavement can lead to dangerous mishaps.

Causes of injuries and fatalities

Federal OSHA has found that nearly half of work-related ATV injuries and fatalities that occurred between 1990 and 2003 resulted from ATV rollovers. Make sure your workers are aware of the factors that lead to rollover incidents, including:

  • Traversing a slope or driving on an excessive incline

  • Speed that is too high for the terrain

  • Unstable loads

  • Rough terrain

  • Driving on concrete or paved roads

ATV maintenance

Another important component of ATV safety is the vehicle itself.

To help keep ATVs in safe working order:

  • Repair ATVs promptly. Make sure workers know how to take an ATV out of service and have it repaired.

  • Maintain ATVs regularly. Establish a routine maintenance program that meets the manufacturer's requirements.

  • Don't make unauthorized modifications. Modifications can affect the ATV's safety and performance. All modifications and attachments should be preapproved by the manufacturer.

  • Watch for recalls. Make sure you receive recall notifications from the manufacturer and act on them quickly.

Employee training

Inexperience is a key factor in ATV crashes, so even though many workers may own and ride these vehicles recreationally, don't leave safety to chance.

  • Provide training. Not all ATVs are alike. As with forklifts or any other motor vehicle, workers need to know how to operate the specific vehicle they will use at work. They should receive both classroom and hands-on training that covers the conditions they may face in their workplace—including terrain, weather, and types of use. You can obtain training through the manufacturer, the retailer, or the ATV Safety Institute (http://www.atvsafety.org/).

  • Enforce safe operating rules. Workers who will operate ATVs should review the operator's manual and know and follow the operating rules. In particular, operators should observe these do's and don'ts:
    Do inspect the ATV before riding to make sure that all parts are in working order.
    Do wear boots, helmets, and other required safety clothing depending on the terrain, weather conditions, and job tasks.
    Do maintain a safe speed for the terrain and weather conditions.
    Do be aware of how attachments and loads affect the handling and stability of the ATV.
    Don't carry passengers unless the ATV is equipped to do so.
    Don't operate the ATV on paved or public roads or in areas with high vehicular or heavy equipment traffic.
    Don't operate the ATV in other forbidden areas, such as in the vicinity of excavations or trenches.
    Don't haul items that exceed the vehicle's weight limit or are unevenly distributed.
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