How to Avoid Accidents, Injuries at the Asphalt Plant

by Sandy Lender, Editor of AsphaltPro Magazine

These tips originally appeared in the April/May 2010 print issue of AsphaltPro Magazine. Here we’ve trimmed the fat to make it easier for safety directors to glean the exact information industry experts advise to take the challenge out of preparing the HMA and quarry sites for safe operation.


Accidents can happen on regular days when everything seems to be working smoothly. Remember that stockpiles look more like hills and mountains than they do aggregate materials when dusk sets in, thus lighting becomes integral to safety. Truck drivers who aren’t familiar with your yard can turn a specific corner at your site, become blinded by the afternoon sun, and put ground personnel in danger. Thus PPE becomes integral to safety. Here are other ideas to keep everyone safe at the asphalt plant or quarry site.

Look out for each other.

George Moody, safety manager for Astec, Inc., Chattanooga, says: “Look out for others. Always use machine guards when you are working on or repairing equipment. If you need to step away from the machine, lock it out and tag it out.”

Looking out for each other means reporting unsafe practices.

Moody suggested that it’s all right to let a supervisor know if a co-worker does something unsafe. “If you see co-workers doing something unsafe, let them know. If they continue to work unsafely, talk to your supervisor. They [co-workers] are putting themselves, and others, in jeopardy.” A good safety program will include a chain of command or hierarchy for protecting workers, and a way to reward those who have the good sense to speak up when dangerous practices are afoot. If a colleague doesn’t respect himself or a fellow co-worker enough to stop dangerous behavior, he will have to follow the direction of a superior.

Keep track of each other.

Jeff Meeker of Meeker Equipment, Lansdale, Pa., suggested owners have a sign-in/sign-out sheet that shows plant operators and managers who is on the site and when. If someone hasn’t been seen or heard from in a while, contact him or her by radio to make sure all is well.

“Carry handheld radios or install hands-free intercoms in multiple locations on the plant,” Meeker said. “Intercoms allow operators to communicate with other plant personnel in a hands-free mode when troubleshooting.”

Also track newcomers.

Not all personnel are going to enter the quarry or plant with a walkie talkie in hand. Meeker reminded owners to post clear signage around the grounds for truck drivers and other visitors so they know where to get loaded and the truck pattern for leaving and entering the site.

Communicate like you mean it.

Meeker recommends owners use a plant start-up siren and/or start-up lights to signal the commencement of production. “Start up sirens allow plant personnel, truck drivers, and others around the plant to know that the plant is about to start. This gives them time to move away to a safe place prior to the plant starting.”

Don’t rush the job.

Moody pointed out: “When it comes to workplace equipment, be sure you know how to properly operate it. Read your manual and understand the machine’s capabilities and its hazards; follow preventive maintenance guidelines. Remember, shortcuts aren’t worth the risk.”

Dennis Hunt of Gencor Industries, Orlando, Fla., reiterated Moody’s feelings. “Think,” Hunt said. “Stop and think before you do anything at the plant. Especially when there is break down. Don’t rush to fix the plant and put yourself or others at risk. You can never explain away an accident, injury or fatality by saying ‘I cut corners to get the plant running.’”

Employ all the senses.

Gencor’s Hunt says: “Look around you before you do anything at an asphalt plant. Look where you are walking, standing or climbing. Be aware of your surroundings. There is constant motion of machinery and equipment at a plant site. Watch out for trucks and loaders; they generally have the right of way.”

Moody added to “look” with “report.”

“Think you can’t do anything about that dim fluorescent light or that loose railing? Think again,” Moody provided. “By immediately reporting safety hazards, you may save someone…from unintentional injury. If you notice a potential hazard, talk to your supervisor or building maintenance personnel right away.”

The next sense Hunt turned to is sound, telling workers to listen for sounds that aren’t normal or usual for the plant. If something sounds out of place or out of alignment, it probably is, and could pose a threat to someone’s well-being.

Finally, think about the sense of touch. Do you want to come in contact with a burner that’s heating asphalt to 300 degrees F? No way.

Don’t forget the PPE.

With most surfaces at the plant storing heat, sources advise personnel wear the long sleeves, thick gloves, safety glasses, etc. Something every source agreed upon was the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) also want to see plant personnel wearing safety vests, hard hats, highly visible clothing and the gear typically reserved for the paving crew.

Gencor’s Hunt took clothing a step further. “Long sleeve shirts are a must at an asphalt plant,” he said. But he also warned: “Don’t dress the same color as the plant.”

Know the plan.

If the unthinkable occurs, a well-practiced emergency plan can keep a situation from going from bad to worse. Meeker suggested that owners institute a clearly defined emergency plan. Make sure personnel know the phone numbers for police, ambulance, hospital, etc. Moody recommended owners add evacuation routes and an assembly area to that plan. You want to meet in an agreed-upon area where all personnel can be counted, and accounted for, if a serious accident takes place.

If an accident happens, workers need to know what to do and need to be so comfortable with the plan that they stay level-headed throughout the emergency. With a good safety program and adherence to safety guidelines, the number of accidents at the asphalt plant will hopefully remain low. The goal is to have everyone go home safe and sound at the end of every shift.

For more information from the OEMs who contributed to this article, visit Astec Industries, Gencor Industries, and Meeker Equipment.