Safety Focus of the Week: Duties of the Spotter Helping to Backup a Motor Vehicle
Recently, we had a reprentative from our insurance company give a presentation on safe backing practices at our weekly safety meeting. She mentioned to the audience that a spotter is frequently necessary when backing a motor vehicle, particularly heavy trucks and ones with a trailer. Then, she mentioned that of course the driver is responsible for any incident, regardless of the spotter’s action. This statement caused me to object to that opinion.
After thinking about it further, I realized that an insurance person will naturally think this way and that what she really meant was that the driver’s insurance (or that of the vehicle’s owner) will always be the primary coverage over an incident. However this is quite different than meaning that the driver is wholey responsible for an incident resulting from negligence of a spotter.
So this brings us to discuss the roles of the spotter and the driver. Realistically and practically speaking, the driver and spotter both have serious responsibilities and need to establish a trust between each other, an understanding of each other’s and their own responsibilities, and establish a communication protocol:
- Establish a trust. You would want the spotter to be a trustworthy and responsible person. And it is best to also be employed by the same company – or perhaps someone with the designated authority and skills, like a traffic flagger. If you don’t know the spotter, or know of their capabilities, then you can’t trust them.
- The spotter and the driver should both understand the hand signals and/or verbal commands prior to the operation.
- Both the spotter and the driver should understand their own and the other’s responsibilities. Which areas are covered by the spotter? By the driver?
- The spotter is effectively in control of the part of the equipment he directs. The driver’s duty is to move the vehicle according to the spotter’s direction. The driver should only deviate from that direction when he sees an impending dangerous situation. If there is disagreement between the two, the activity should be stopped, discussed, and resolved. The driver is ultimately responsible to determine if the operation can continue in a safe manner.
- When backing a truck, the spotter provides the direction to the driver for that end of the vehicle the spotter is responsible for (most often the rear). The driver focuses on the spotter with frequent visual checks to verify that the other ends of the truck are also clear of danger.
Essentially, the driver is not necessarily responsible for the action of the spotter, but the driver is responsible for assigning the spotter with their responsibilities. This will make the driver at least partly responsible for a backing incident directed by a spotter .