Vehicles found safe in wake of death on the job, new guidelines adopted

GUILDERLAND — The town’s highway department has implemented new safety guidelines after the accidental death of Sean McCutcheon in May.

McCutcheon, a 19-year employee of the town, was killed when he fell from the truck he was on, picking up yard debris, and the truck backed up over him.

Investigations showed the death was accidental; Supervisor Kenneth Runion called it “a tragic accident.”

Highway Superintendent Steve Oliver said this week that a New York State Police inspector was brought in to check over the department’s vehicles and found that everything was in working order; all the safety equipment on the trucks was functional and all safety procedures were followed.

“Everything was 100 percent,” said Oliver. “We are still not really sure about the how, what, and why of the accident.”

The department had conducted a truck safety-training program just five weeks before McCutcheon’s death, he said.

The Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau, which enforces safety and health standards put forth by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, specifically for public sector employees, encouraged Oliver to formulate guidelines specific to leaf collection and bagging.

“It’s not written into law that we have to have these guidelines,” said Oliver, but, due to the accident, he decided to put them in place.

The guidelines include:

— Limiting the use of the truck’s riding steps to times when trucks are traveling less than 10 miles-per-hour, for a distance of less than two-tenths of a mile, not on main roads, and not when the truck is backing up;

— Using a spotter when backing up and maintaining visual contact with collectors and spotters at all times;

— Keeping hands and feet on handrails and platforms at all times;

— Communicating between drivers and collectors with hand signals;

— Wearing high-visibility garments;

— Making certain backup alarms and buzzers are working before leaving the garage;

— Making collectors aware of driver’s blind spots;

— Avoiding backing up whenever possible; and,

— Not using headphones at any time.

Oliver said he plans to conduct a training program using the new guidelines within the next few weeks.

“There are certain things that everyone needs to be reminded of,” said Oliver. “When you work with this equipment every day, sometimes things like truck alarms don’t even register anymore, it’s like background noise.”

He said the morale of the department has suffered after the loss of McCutcheon.

“We all took it really hard, it was horrific and I think we’re all still stunned,” Oliver said. “When you work with someone for more than 20 years they’re so much more than a co-worker.”

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