Safety Considerations for Matted Surfaces

Have you ever worked a job that involved matting? If so, were the hazards and risks of matting discussed during the pre-job briefing? We often focus on the electrical hazards of our work sites – and we should – but we fall short if we don’t also pay attention to other types of hazards. The remainder of this month’s Tailgate Topic will provide you with some items to consider when working with or from a matted surface.

Mats are heavy, and it takes heavy equipment to move them. This can increase site traffic and add new equipment to the work area, such as mat trucks, forwarders, log trucks, track rigs, diggers and additional light-duty vehicles. Controls to consider include travel routes for different equipment, the use of spotters, work planning to reduce conflict between electrical and access crews, and communication between crews on-site.

Guy wires need additional consideration as they are a leading cause of events for matting contractors. On a poorly planned job site, it can be common to strike guy wires with equipment and booms if the site’s work plan does not consider them a hazard. To reduce guy wire events, include visual indicators (e.g., guy guards and flagging). Make these hard-to-see wires more visible, discuss the topic as part of your daily briefing, and be aware of changing site and solar glare issues, which can make guy wires even less visible.

Using a spotter adds complexity to a job as it puts a person on the ground near heavy equipment that has blind spots. If a spotter is used, the crew needs to spend time discussing equipment movement and blind spots. It is recommended that the spotter have a radio for communication with the equipment operator. If you are operating equipment with a spotter and lose sight of that individual, immediately stop the equipment.

Matting by design offers additional support for the work area. Mats are intended to support the weight of the equipment, bridge gaps and protect the ground underneath them. However, mats can become slippery and uneven, have gaps and present other hazards. For example, some matting is so high off the ground that it becomes a fall hazard. If the matting is not level, a vehicle or piece of equipment could slide off its edge. So, hazard reduction starts with building a good, level base. When installing matting, follow the manufacturer’s design; inspect the matting before installation to make sure it is in good shape; use runner mats when needed to make the work surface level; and inspect for gaps after initial installation.

Once working from mats, plan for maintenance. In colder climates, snow and ice can present problems, and rain can occur in any part of the country. These conditions can make mats slippery, and sand or salt may not be an option due to environmental considerations. For these situations, stone dust can be used to reduce slippery conditions. If anyone could be exposed to a fall hazard, install guardrails where people will be working. For those same areas, have a plan for equipment movement that limits exposure to the fall area. Finally, include matting as part of your daily inspection. Condition the crew to look for, identify and report hazards, such as gaps in the mat, as part of their normal work.

A great job briefing is like well-built matting – it is a great foundation for a successful job. If on-site with matting, include the hazards outlined above in your briefing. Then, discuss as a crew where the work will take place, what additional hazards the matting adds to the work and what controls you can put in place. Matting is an important part of our work when it is used, so make it an important part of your job briefing, too.

About the Authors: Nathan Boutwell, M.Eng., CSP, SMS, CIT, CUSP, is the business unit manager for Northeast Live Line LLC.

Nick Powers is the vice president of strategic growth for BluRoc.

Bill Hinrichs, CUSP, is the director of environmental health and safety for Northline Utilities LLC.

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