ATVs and UTVs: Minimizing the Hazards
Throughout all of industry, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility task vehicles (UTVs) are involved in the majority of off-highway vehicle (OHV) incidents that result in injury. It’s not much different in the utility industry.
While there is no official mechanism for counting or comparing vehicle class versus incidents, surveys and experience seem to indicate that of the vehicle classes used in our industry, ATVs and UTVs used in construction account for a high incident and injury rate. I have run safety at three large utility-related entities, and this awareness of the high incidence of ATV/UTV accidents among OHVs – which include pickup trucks, crew trucks, digger derricks and bucket trucks – struck me some 15 years ago. During the first ATV incident I investigated, it became clear that the root cause was lack of both training and operator competence. As I started keeping track of the incidents, the numbers would fall something like this: A company would have 73 OHVs and 6 ATVs and/or UTVs. In one year, the ATVs/UTVs would account for seven of the nine incidents that resulted in injuries to either operators or bystanders. And while the other OHVs would occasionally run into things, nobody was hurt most of the time. On the other hand, there were no wrecks with ATVs/UTVs that didn’t result in injury.
A Bad Day on the Hill
In one such incident, one ATV and one UTV were used to pull ropes on a mountainous transmission construction site. We had to build access roads into the structure sites, and they were covered with crushed granite. An eight-man crew went to one of the mountaintop sites to assemble a lattice structure. Six of them rode up in two crew trucks. The other two crew members decided to ride up in the UTV. At the end of the day, the two UTV riders left the site first and headed down the hill. The crash was witnessed by a lineman for another crew who happened to be an ex-Army paramedic firefighter – and it’s a good thing he was. The speeding UTV began to bounce during the downhill drive over the rough granite road. It rolled over four times and ended up sideways. The driver and passenger were wearing their seat belts, but with each roll, their upper bodies were thrust out of the open sides of the vehicle, so they did faceplants onto the granite roadway. The two workers were seriously injured, requiring helicopter transport to trauma care. Both had broken almost every bone in their face in addition to breaking arms and hands. The paramedic lineman took over and directed crew members in first-aid care of the injured, ensuring open airways and stabilizing broken limbs while they waited for rescue.
The company had no ATV/UTV use policy even though we had previously incurred several ATV/UTV incidents. We had no training or competency requirements for the use of ATVs or UTVs. That lack of training and competency policy was directly responsible for the loss of control of the UTV. Unbeknownst to the operator, the vehicle’s tires were supposed to be soft inflated to 18 psi. The driver kicked the tires before he left the yard and said to his fellow rider that they needed to “air them up.” After the incident, the investigator found the three tires that survived the crash – at 28 to 30 rigid pounds. It was those overinflated tires that were most likely responsible for the loss of control, and in particular the bouncing of the UTV witnessed by the lineman before the rollover.
Afterward, we initiated a stand-down of ATV/UTV use so that the company safety committee could establish a policy for operating the machines that included vehicle power and speed limitations, training and company licensing of qualified drivers. With the policy in place, we continued to employ ATVs and UTVs in construction, but we didn’t just reduce incidents. We eliminated them.
Below is one of the ATV/UTV policies we found successful in controlling incidents and preventing injuries. Feel free to use it without attribution. We want you to have a safe 2023, and this is one of the things we can do to help you achieve that. We also have a model work site acknowledgement log and a training certification sheet for ATV/UTV operator candidates; contact me at email@example.com to obtain copies.
A Model ATV/UTV Safety Policy
- Prevent accidents and injuries resulting from careless operation of ATVs and UTVs.
- Establish policy for job site assignment and operation of ATVs and UTVs.
- Provide for enforcement and accountability for safety in operation of ATVs and UTVs.
This policy is subject to periodic review and update to improve safety for our workers and the public, to comply with changes in state and federal administrative law, and to meet the needs of the company and our clients.
Requirements of state and federal laws, local agreements and client policy may supersede some or all provisions of this policy.
Where conflicts arise, the more stringent provisions apply. The company has the right to make changes, additions, revisions or amendments to this policy at any time without notice.
Utility Task Vehicle (UTV): UTVs, also known as side-by-sides, are those all-terrain vehicles designed to carry two or more workers and equipment to off-road work sites. UTVs, such as – but not limited to – the Polaris Ranger or the John Deere Gator, are specifically designed for off-road transport use but may also be used to pull ropes or for other project-related work. UTVs may be wheeled or track-driven vehicles powered by combustion engines or electric motors.
All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV): ATVs, also known as three- or four-wheelers, are any all-terrain vehicles designed to carry the operator and a limited number of personal tools or equipment to off-road work sites. ATVs may be wheeled or track-driven vehicles powered by combustion engines or electric motors. Snowmobiles are considered ATVs for the purposes of this policy.
Criteria for Use of ATVs and UTVs
- ATVs and UTVs must be approved for use on a project by the respective regional manager with the acknowledgement of the company’s administration and the safety department.
- Work site supervision or safety personnel shall deliver a work site safety meeting review of the ATV/UTV policy with site personnel and document the policy training on the Work Site Acknowledgement Form.
- Work site supervisors shall keep the ATV/UTV policy review acknowledgement page on-site with other project documents for review by safety and administrative personnel.
- Work site supervision must arrange for qualification of assigned ATV/UTV operators before operation.
- Operators must be assigned as an ATV or a UTV operator by the project general foreman or their designee.
- UTV and ATV operators shall be qualified by a regional safety supervisor or designee.
- ATV riders shall have completed the ATV Safety Institute’s online adult rider safety course at https://atvsafety.org/atv-ecourse/. This requirement may be waived under certain remote site conditions.
- ATV and UTV operators shall not operate an assigned vehicle until they have received the required qualification and read the operator guide for the respective equipment they are assigned to operate.
Operating Requirements for ATVs and UTVs
- Operators, selected by site supervision, shall be familiar with the operating characteristics of the equipment they are to drive and shall have reviewed the operator manual(s) for such equipment.
- ATVs and UTVs shall not be operated unless the operator manuals are on-site and readily available to operators.
- ATVs and UTVs shall be trailered to off-road work areas. Transport of ATVs/UTVs on trucks is permitted when properly loaded and secured.
- Other than rights-of-way to access terrain that can’t be navigated by conventional trucks, ATVs and UTVs shall not be operated on dirt roads, improved or paved roads, or any roadway where a truck can be driven.
- ATVs and UTVs shall be operated at speeds and in a manner reasonable for the prevailing ground and weather conditions.
- All seats on a UTV shall be installed or approved for aftermarket installation by the manufacturer of the UTV.
- All riders on a UTV shall be seated and seat-belted while the vehicle is in motion.
- Unsecured cargo shall not be transported in compartments with UTV passengers.
- UTVs shall have at least a three-point seat belt comprised of a lap belt and shoulder strap. Where a three-point belt system is not available and cannot be installed, drivers and riders must wear helmets with face protection that are approved by the Department of Transportation.
- The use of ATVs/UTVs and the limits of such use shall be discussed during the daily job briefing and task hazard analysis.
- The designated operator of an ATV/UTV shall be noted in the daily job briefing.
- ATV/UTV operators shall wear work boots, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, work gloves and ANSI-approved safety glasses. Operators shall also wear a traffic safety vest unless they are wearing an approved high-contrast, safety-color shirt.
- ATV operators shall also wear a properly fitting DOT-approved helmet with face protection.
- In high-dust areas, ATV and UTV operators shall wear goggles.
- ATVs/UTVs shall be inspected daily and shall not be operated with safety defects.
- UTVs shall have a first-aid kit and fire extinguisher on board during operation.
- ATVs/UTVs shall be operated with spark-arresting mufflers.
- ATVs/UTVs shall not be loaned or taken off-site for personal use.
About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 24 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.