Back to Basics, Construction, Transportation

Back to Basics: Motor Vehicle Safety

Back to Basics is a weekly feature that highlights important but possibly overlooked information that any EHS professional should know. This week, we examine OSHA’s recommendations for motor vehicle safety at work.

Cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles are used in all kinds of industries to conduct business. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 1,982 fatal occupational injuries were due to transportation incidents in 2021. Roadways, unlike other workplaces, are not closed environments, and so according to OSHA, preventing work-related roadway crashes requires strategies that combine traffic safety principles and sound safety management practices. OSHA has several standards involving vehicles, including standards for the construction, agriculture, and maritime industries.


According to OSHA’s standard for motor vehicles in construction, which are those that operate within an off-highway jobsite away from public traffic, all vehicles must have a service brake system, an emergency brake system, and a parking brake system. These three systems can have common components, and they must be maintained in operable condition.

If visibility conditions warrant additional light, all vehicles, or combinations of vehicles, in use must be equipped with at least two headlights and two taillights in operable condition. All vehicles should have brake lights in operable condition regardless of light conditions, and all vehicles must be equipped with an adequate audible warning device at the operator’s station and in an operable condition.

OSHA states that no employer can use any motor vehicle equipment with an obstructed view to the rear unless the vehicle has a reverse signal alarm audible above the surrounding noise level, or the vehicle is backed up only when an observer signals that it is safe to do so.

All vehicles with cabs shall be equipped with windshields and powered wipers, and vehicles operating in conditions that cause fogging or frosting of the windshields must have operable defogging or defrosting devices. Cracked and broken glass must be replaced if necessary. All haulage vehicles, whose payload is loaded via cranes, power shovels, loaders, or similar equipment, shall have a cab shield or canopy to protect the operator from shifting or falling materials.

Tools and materials must be secured to prevent movement when transported in the same compartment with workers. Vehicles that transport employees must have enough firmly secured seats to accommodate the number of employees being transported, and seat belts and anchorages meeting the requirements of 49 CFR Part 571 must be installed in every vehicle.

Trucks with dump bodies must be equipped with permanently attached positive means of support that are capable of being locked in position to prevent accidental lowering of the body during maintenance or inspection. Operating levers controlling hoisting or dumping devices on haulage bodies must have a latch or other device to prevent accidental starting or tripping of the mechanism. Trip handles for tailgates of dump trucks must be arranged so that the operator will be in the clear during dumping.

All rubber-tired motor vehicle equipment must have fenders, and mud flaps may be used instead of fenders whenever the motor vehicle equipment is not designed for fenders. Additionally, all vehicles in use must be checked at the beginning of each shift to make sure that the following are in safe operating condition and free of damage that could cause failure:

  • Service brakes, including trailer brake connections
  • Parking system (hand brake)
  • Emergency stopping system (brake)
  • Tires
  • Horn
  • Steering mechanism
  • Coupling devices
  • Seat belts
  • Operating controls
  • Safety devices

All defects are required by OSHA to be corrected before the vehicle is placed in service, and this applies to equipment such as lights, reflectors, windshield wipers, defrosters, and fire extinguishers, where such equipment is necessary.


In the agricultural industry, OSHA’s standard covers two types of tractors, agricultural tractors and low profile tractors. Agricultural tractors are two- or four-wheel drive type vehicles, or track vehicles, of more than 20 engine horsepower, designed to furnish the power to pull, carry, propel, or drive implements designed for agriculture.

Low profile tractors are wheeled tractors where the front wheel spacing is equal to the rear wheel spacing, as measured from the centerline of each right wheel to the centerline of the corresponding left wheel. The clearance from the bottom of the tractor chassis to the ground does not exceed 18 inches, the highest point of the hood does not exceed 60 inches, and they are designed so that the operator straddles the transmission when seated.

Employers must provide roll-over protective structures (ROPS) for each tractor operated by an employee. Where ROPS are required, the employer must also provide each tractor with a seatbelt, ensuring that each employee uses the seatbelt while the tractor is moving and tightens the seatbelt sufficiently the confine the employee to the protected area provided by the ROPS.

Where a suspended seat is used, the seatbelt must be fastened to the movable portion of the seat to accommodate the ride motion of the operator. The seatbelt anchorage has to be capable of withstanding a static tensile load of 1,000 pounds at 45 degrees to the horizontal equally divided between the anchorages. The seatbelt webbing material must have resistance to acids, alkalies, mildew, aging, moisture, and sunlight, equal to or better than that of untreated polyester fiber.

In order to protect operators from spillage, batteries, fuel tanks, oil reservoirs, and coolant systems must be constructed and located or sealed, and all sharp edges and corners at the operator’s station must be designed to minimize operator injury in the event of an upset.


OSHA’s requirements for vehicles in the maritime industry apply to general vehicle use within marine terminals. Private vehicle parking in marine terminals should only be allowed in designate areas, and trailers must not be disconnected from tractors at loading docks until the road wheels have been immobilized.

Employers must direct motor vehicle operators to comply with any posted speed limits and other traffic control signs or signals, and written traffic instructions. Stop signs need to be posted at main entrances and exits of structures where visibility is impaired, and at blind intersections, unless direct traffic control or warning mirror systems or other equivalent safety systems are provided.

Vehicular routes, traffic rules, and parking areas must be established, identified, and used, and the employer must direct vehicle drivers to warn employees of the vehicle’s approach in traffic lanes. Signs indicating pedestrian traffic should be clearly posted at vehicular check-in and check-out lines, and similar locations where workers are doing their jobs.

No unattended vehicles should be left with the engine running unless they are secured against movement. When the rear of a vehicle is elevated to facilitate loading or discharging, a ramp must be provided and secured, and the vehicle must be secured during loading or discharging.

Only highway vehicle floors in safe condition can be used, and when flatbed trucks, platform containers, or similar conveyances are loaded or discharged and the cargo consists of pipe or other products which could spread or roll to endanger workers, the cargo must be contained to prevent movement. Also, vehicles used to transport employees within a terminal must be maintained in safe working order and safety devices must not be removed or made inoperative.

Prevention strategies

Employers cannot control what happens on the road, but they can promote safe driving behavior by providing safety information to workers and by setting and enforcing driver safety policies, says OSHA. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) provides a list of prevention strategies for employers.

In terms of policies, NIOSH recommends assigning a key member of the management team responsibility and authority to set and enforce comprehensive driver safety policies. Employers should enforce mandatory seatbelt use, and develop work schedules that allow employees to obey speed limits and to follow applicable hours-of-service regulations. Workers should not be required to drive irregular hours or far beyond their normal working hours, and they should not be required to conduct business on a cell phone while driving.

For fleet management, employers should adopt a structured vehicle maintenance program, and provide company vehicles that offer the highest possible levels of occupant protection. For safety programs, workers must be taught strategies for recognizing and managing driver fatigue and in-vehicle distractions. Employers must provide training to workers operating specialized motor vehicles or equipment, and emphasize to workers the need to follow safe driving practices on and off the job.

As for driver performance, employers need to ensure that workers assigned to drive on the job have a valid driver’s license and one that is adequate for the type of vehicle being driven. They should check driving records of prospective workers, and perform periodic rechecks after hiring, while also maintaining complete and accurate records of workers’ driving performances.

For more information, click here to view OSHA’s full recommendations for motor vehicle safety.

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