Ways to Prevent Injuries From Backhoes & Mine Rock Falls Are Described in New Series

December 3, 2003
NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) inaugurated a new series of publications with two new documents that offer practical ways to prevent occupational injuries and deaths from backhoes and mine rock falls.

The documents are the first in a new NIOSH “Workplace Solutions” series that offers easy-to-understand, easy-to-access, and easy-to-use recommendations that turn the results of NIOSH research into occupational safety and health practice.

“Workplace Solutions: Preventing Injuries When Working with Hydraulic Excavators and Backhoe Loaders,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-107, notes that 346 workplace deaths were associated with excavators or backhoe loaders during 1992-2000. The fatalities included deaths that were caused when operators or nearby employees were struck by the machines or components of the equipment, struck by excavator buckets that unexpectedly detached, or electrocuted.

Practical steps suggested by NIOSH for preventing injuries and fatalities include these:

  • Make all workers on the site aware of the machine’s established swing areas (the radius of the excavator or backhoe arm as it swings) and blind spots (areas to the sides or rear of the machine that are blocked from or beyond the operator’s range of vision) before the operator works the machine. Keep workers on foot outside these areas by marking them with rope, tape, or other barriers.
  • Keep workers outside the hydraulic excavator swing areas and clear of attachments when using the machine for hoisting materials. Do not allow workers to stand under suspended loads or suspended machine components such as the boom, arm, or bucket.
  • Install and maintain equipment attachments and their operating systems according to manufacturer’s specifications.
  • Make frequent visual inspections of quick-disconnect systems (systems for attaching buckets to excavators, designed to detach the bucket quickly) especially after changing attachments.

“Workplace Solutions: Ground Fall Injuries in Underground Stone Mines,” DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2004-106, notes that employees in underground stone mines have a fatality rate nearly 20 times higher than that of employees in the manufacturing sector. As many as 35 new underground stone mines are expected to open in 2005, many of which will employ new or inexperienced workers.

Three quarters of all fatalities in underground stone mines are caused by ground falls, or pieces of rock falling from the roofs or walls of mines and striking employees. Nearly half of all injuries involving ground falls were associated with scaling – the removal of loose rock from the roof or walls of a mine before mining operations resume there.

Precautions recommended by NIOSH to avoid risk of injury or death include these:

  • Safety harnesses and hard hats should be used properly during scaling.
  • Equipment baskets used in scaling should be equipped with a padded railing and a canopy or caging to absorb and deflect falling rock.
  • While loading explosives, miners should wear personal protective equipment such as a hard hat with a back rim to deflect small rock pieces from hitting the neck and back.
  • When roof bolting, employees should use mechanical bolters with a protective cab if possible.

“Workplace Solutions: Preventing Injuries When Working with Hydraulic Excavators and Backhoe Loaders” is available on the NIOSH web page at www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2004-107/default.html

“Workplace Solutions: Ground Fall Injuries in Underground Stone Mines” is available on the web page at www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/wp-solutions/2004-106/default.html

For printed copies of the documents, or for further information on NIOSH research, call the toll-free NIOSH information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).

Page last reviewed: July 22, 2015