Safety Observers Essential to Site Safety


Mobile Plant: Spotters

Worksites can present considerable safety concerns, particularly with shared work zones where mobile plant is operating in close proximity to other mobile plant, overhead and underground power lines, bodies of water, equipment, structures and pedestrians. The job of a spotter also commonly referred to as a safety observer is essential to maintaining a safe work site.  It is the sole task of the spotter, the person at the helm of mobile plant movements to provide on-site guidance, ensuring that mobile plant does not come into contact with objects or persons it can cause damage to or injury.

Spotters are responsible for one of the most important tasks on site, not only are they responsible for ensuring safe machinery movements on site, but also ensuring that plant operators are safe from potential hazards such as overhead power lines. Mobile plant coming into contact with overhead power lines pose a serious safety risk to not only plant operators but bystanders. These types of risks arise as operators of plant do not always have a full view of their worksites, and as a result are not always able to see potential hazards or workers in close proximity. In cases like this, a spotter is able to provide an extra set of eyes, spotting potential hazards and relaying this information back to the plant operator.

In addition to being aware of everything that is going on with the plant they are guiding, spotters need to be aware of what is going on around them and look out for themselves, a distracted spotter if only for a few seconds can be fatal.


Mobile Plant: Fatalities

A May 2014 report released by Safe Work Australia, ‘Work-related fatalities involving trucks, 2003 – 2012’ showed that from 2003 to 2012 there were a total of 54 workers on foot killed in truck-related incidents.

Furthermore, between 2003 – 2012 stationary vehicles contributed to 39% (21) of these incidents, with 11 of these occurring during maintenance / repair works. This was closely followed by reversing vehicles which accounted for 33% (18) fatalities. The table below shows a breakdown of the truck movement involved in these incidents.

More recently, between 2006 and 2011, there were 14 fatal incidents involving a bystander or worker being struck by a vehicle — fourteen of these cases involved a reversing vehicle.


Source: Work-related fatalities involving trucks, 2003 – 2012

Controlling the Risks

The use of spotters on site is classed as an administration control measure and should always be used in conjunction with other control measures.

A person conducting a business or undertaking must ensure powered mobile plant does not collide with pedestrians. For any plant operating in the same work zone as pedestrians, it is the responsibility of the “person with management or control of the plant” to ensure that the plant is fitted with warning devices that alert people to the risk of moving plant in their work zone.

Other considerations for managing the risks associated with moving plant on construction sites:

  • Development of traffic management plans
  • Use of technology such as automatic braking sensors and reversing cameras.

Traffic Control Plans

Arrangements for the control of traffic on site is essential to the safety of those working on, around or near moving mobile plant and machinery.

These shared work areas require an effective traffic management plan to ensure that the workplace is without risks to health and safety and that vehicles, mobile plant, and pedestrians do not come into contact with each other. A traffic management plan, where applicable should include details of:

  • Designated travel paths
  • Loading and unloading areas
  • Pedestrian and traffic routes
  • Parking areas
  • Temporary traffic control
  • Emergency response procedures

Automatic Braking Sensors

The installation of automatic braking technology to vehicles is one control that has the potential to prevent on site collisions. Automatic braking technology involves fitting ultrasonic sensors to the rear of the vehicle. These sensors are designed to detect objects that come within a certain distance of the vehicle. Should an object be detected within this range of distance via the sensors a signal is sent to a solenoid, located at the front of the vehicle. When activated the solenoid, applies the brakes.

Field studies with reverse alert technology have been conducted before, with one four-month trial on reverse alert technology with Thiess in Queensland yielding positive results. Reversing tests held in the field with a human cut out produced a 97% success rate, with only 4 hits out of the 137 attempts for light commercial vehicles. Similar results were experienced on Hino Trucks fitted with the technology, with a 91.1% success rate in the sensors activating the automatic braking technology. The full report can be read here

Safety observers for electrical work

Working with energised electrical equipment can be dangerous. For this reason, it is a requirement that a spotter be present for any electrical work on energised equipment. It is the role of a spotter to observe any type of electrical work and provide warnings against the unsafe approach to overhead and underground electric lines and other electric equipment where necessary.

The safety observer must be assessed as competent:

  • To implement control measures in an emergency, and
  • To rescue the worker who is carrying out the work, if necessary. Having been assessed in the last 12 months to be competent in providing resuscitation.

Spotter – Safety Observer SWMS

To help you manage the risks associated with electrical work on energised equipment and the movement of plant and machinery on site, we have just released a new 2016 Spotter – Safety Observer Safe Work Method Statement.

The spotter safety observers safe work method statement (SWMS) covers the general hazards associated with spotter/safety observer tasks such as traffic management, hot works and use of mobile plant and work in No Go Zone of electrical power lines.

The contents of the SWMS covers:

  • Planning & Preparation
  • Training & Capabilities
  • Assess on-site conditions
  • Work area setup
  • Pre-operational inspection
  • Spotting ( Contact with electricity, Hot works – fire, Tree pruning / felling near powerlines, Hit by moving plant & more)
  • End of shift
  • Emergency Response
  • Electrical Emergency Response Plan
  • Daily Spotter Checklist
  • Worker Sign-Off Sheet
  • Review & Monitoring sections

You can view a sample and purchase the Spotter – Safety Observer SWMS here


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