About 30% of all accidents occur while vehicles are moving in reverse, and thousands of children die or are injured each year due to backing incidents. While working in a residential area or backing up in any scenario, linemen can put themselves at risk for an unnecessary and life-changing accident.

At Ameren Illinois, field employees log more than 25 million road miles annually. To educate its field workforce about the dangers of operating a vehicle in reverse, Ameren Illinois turned to a training program called Safe Start, a registered trademark from ElectroLab Ltd. The utility also implemented safety strategies and invested in new backing assistance technology for the Galesburg, Illinois, operations fleet.

Sharing Knowledge with Field Crews

A year-and-a-half ago, the manager in Ameren Illinois' Division I turned to four field professionals to perform research on backing accidents and then share the information with other field crews. After reading story after story about parents and grandparents accidentally backing over their loved ones, the linemen made it their mission to educate others about how to eliminate backing accidents at home and at work.

The linemen searched for facts and statistics online, collected their personal stories and then created a PowerPoint presentation to present to their coworkers. So far, the linemen delivered the presentation at every operating center within Division I as well as at the statewide safety kickoff. Ameren Illinois is also training the new hires on the dangers of backing so they can develop safe driving habits from their first day on the job.

As part of this project, the team worked on identifying the size of the blind spot for each type of vehicle in their utility's fleet. According to research, larger, longer and taller vehicles like bucket trucks and line trucks have significant blind zones, and, as such, about 60% of backing accidents involve larger vehicles such as trucks or vans. To pinpoint the exact length of the blind zone, Ameren Illinois linemen parked their vehicles, and then had an individual walk from the back of each vehicle with a cone. As the coworker walked away from the vehicle, the driver honked the horn as soon as they were able to see the cone in the rearview mirrors. While the blind zone behind a normal van was about 15 ft, 5 inches, it jumped to 46 ft for a line truck.

This research opened the linemen's eyes to the hazards of operating large utility trucks while in reverse. While they can see everything in front of them as they drive forward, most had never contemplated the hazards associated with putting their vehicles in reverse. The Galesburg Operating Center may not have encountered a significant backing incident up to that point, but the potential always existed since they often work in congested residential areas.