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Spotter Safety Toolbox Talk

In this toolbox talk, learn why you should always use spotters when operating forklifts and heavy equipment on the construction site.

Spotter Safety Talk

Most construction sites rely on a variety of heavy machinery, equipment, and vehicles to get the job done. These can range from semi-trucks to bulldozers, to cranes. These large vehicles and equipment require skilled and qualified drivers. Some of the most skilled drivers still need some assistance from a spotter when they are moving. Large vehicles often have blind spots and it is helpful to have someone on the outside to safely scan the area and alert the driver of any objects or dangers. This is the role of a spotter.

What is a Spotter in Construction?

A spotter is a second pair of eyes and ears for drivers and equipment operators on the jobsite. They stand near the equipment or vehicle and feed information to the driver, including directions and things the driver is unable to see or hear by themself. Spotters can also be referred to as observers, signalers, and guides.

Spotting for equipment has been effective in keeping accidents between pedestrians and heavy equipment but there are also some precautions a spotter must follow to keep themself safe. If you are asked to be a spotter on your construction site make sure you understand exactly what your role is and ask the driver or your foreman questions before you start spotting for anyone.

Forklift Spotter Responsibilities

On a construction site, it is common to see a forklift helping move heavy materials from one place to another. Forklift spotters are often needed, and while it may seem like a simple and easy to do job, forklift spotting is complex. If you are wanting to be a forklift spotter you should complete a comprehensive training program before you take on the great responsibilities that come with this.

A forklift spotter ensures that a truck operator lifts a load properly and moves it to the correct location. This can include ensuring that the load is balanced so it will not fall off a lift. Once the forklift is being driven, the spotter will then ensure that the load or the forklift does not hit anything including people, or objects.

spotter assisting forklift driver on construction site.

Forklift Spotter Requirements

Some job duties of a forklift spotter include:

  • Directing a travel route when a driver's vision is blocked

  • Directing the positioning of a load on the forks when it is being lifted

  • Watching for drop-offs overhead wires, piping, and other hazards when lifting a load or moving a load

  • Keeping pedestrians away from the hazardous area and travel paths

  • Following the forklift, while traveling to protect the lift, the load, and other vehicles

Most construction job sites are noisy and it might be hard for others to hear you and make it difficult to communicate with your coworkers and other drivers. Spotter uses a variety of signals that prove to work better than voice commands in these instances. Before starting a spotting job, you should ensure that both you and the driver know the signals that will be used to communicate. These signals can include "back-up", "slow down", "move forward", "stop" and more.

Heavy Equipment Spotter Responsibilities

The need for spotters on a construction site extends far beyond forklifts to all heavy equipment. Many jobs can benefit from a spotter's help, including jobs that use aerial lifts, earthmovers, such as cranes and bulldozers, and any other heavy equipment where the driver may not be able to see clearly. Spotters are essential when you are working around overhead hazards including structures, steel columns, and most especially live power lines.

When traveling down narrow paths and tight spaces a spotter is also needed to help navigate the space. Heavy equipment spotters have the same basic duties that forklift spotters do. They help guide aerial lift and equipment operators when they are moving their vehicle or equipment. Heavy equipment spotters can also scan the area from trip and fall hazards and ensure other workers stay out of the path of travel.

Before you are a spotter for heavy equipment make sure you have a plan with the operator and have a clear understanding of what exactly you are doing and where you are going. You should agree on hand signals as well as the travel route.

Safety Practices For Spotters

It does not matter if you are spotting for a forklift driver or for someone operating heavy equipment there are some safety practices you should follow. These include:

  • Wear highly visible clothing

  • Avoid walking into the path of a vehicle, moving equipment, or a swinging load

  • Avoid walking behind heavy equipment while spotting

  • Stand where an aerial lift or equipment is going while flagging it back

  • Scan a worksite for hazards and remove them before a job

  • Ensure a forklift driver stops if they lose sight of their driver

  • Focus on your job

  • Do not use a phone, headphones, or other items that can be distracting while spotting

  • Agree on hand signals before you start a spotting job

  • Make sure you keep constant visual contact with the driver while the vehicle is in motion

When you are planning a job and travel route with a driver see if the need to backup can be eliminated. If not, minimize the number of times you would need to back up the machinery to keep everyone safe. If you have never spotted before or operated the machinery, discuss any concerns with the driver or your foreman to make sure everyone is going to the job correctly. This will help everyone prevent accidents on a construction site.

Spotter Training

OSHA regulations require that a spotter is on a construction job site when working with forklifts and heavy equipment. Regardless of OSHA requirements, it is always a good idea to be a trained spotter. Forklift and heavy equipment spotter training involves learning the drive the equipment and the best spotting practices. That way if a new driver is needed a spotter can often be a driver and a driver can be used as a spotter. training can also ensure that everyone is using the same hand signals and knows the best course of action.

Stay Safe & Use a Spotter

Forklift and heavy equipment spotters are crucial in the construction industry to maintain a safe worksite. Spotters should understand their day to day responsibilities so they can help complete various tasks without putting themselves and their coworkers in danger. Spotters can also contribute to an overall safe work environment and help the crew maximize its productivity daily.

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