Writing an ATV/UTV Operating Safety Policy

This installment of “Focus on Fleet Safety” is a little bit different than usual in that we are going to write an operating safety policy. There are two goals here: to help you learn to develop policies that make a difference, and to prevent wrecked all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility task vehicles (UTVs) on your job sites.

Over the last few decades, ATVs and UTVs have taken on a significant role in remote site access and large yard transportation. What have also occurred over the last few decades are serious and occasionally fatal injuries from the operation of ATVs and UTVs. In my own experience as a former transmission line contractor, we only had a few incidents with UTVs, but it was on every job where we used them. In my time since, I have received calls every year regarding incidents related to UTVs. They are probably involved more often because ATVs are not as useful on rights-of-way as they are in yards where managers employ them to get around more efficiently. In this article, we are going to discuss the elements of an ATV/UTV policy designed to address the most common issues related to ATV/UTV wrecks and how they can be prevented.

First, in any such policy, we must clearly identify the machines we are covering under the policy. Failing to identify particulars can lead to rationalization in the field and manipulation of the intent of a control policy to get around restrictions. So, here is what we are addressing: UTVs – also known as side-by-sides – are those all-terrain vehicles designed to carry two or more workers and equipment to off-road work sites. UTVs like the Polaris RANGER and John Deere Gator are specifically designed for off-road use for transport, but they may also be used to pull ropes or for other project-related work. UTVs may be wheeled or track-driven vehicles powered by combustion engines or electric motors.

ATVs, also known as three- or four-wheelers, are any all-terrain vehicles designed to carry an operator only plus a limited number of personal tools or equipment to off-road work sites. ATVs may be wheeled or track-driven vehicles powered by combustion engines or electric motors. Snowmobiles are considered ATVs for the purposes of this policy.

When writing definitions, it is sometimes possible and useful to be very concise in defining the equipment covered in a use policy. If your company has specifications, and you are confident that there are no other types of equipment to be used, you can be very specific by listing manufacturers, models and types of power sources.

The Purpose Statement
Next is the purpose statement, which identifies the intent of the policy. In OSHA actions and in litigation, the violations addressed are always examined using the intent of the prevailing standard. The prevailing standard is a rule, law or written standard of performance that regulates the incident at issue. The intent of a rule settles the defense argument of, “Well, I thought it meant …” A purpose statement sets out in clear language why the rule, policy or procedure is needed. Here’s what we might see in the purpose statement of an ATV/UTV policy:

  1. Prevent accidents and injuries resulting from careless operation of ATVs/UTVs.
  2. Establish policy for job site assignment and operation of ATVs/UTVs.
  3. Provide for enforcement and safety accountability in the operation of ATVs/UTVs.

Here we have decided on the three statements above. Statements 1 and 3 address the expectation that ATV/UTV operation will be careful, and if not, there will be consequences. I intentionally separated those two statements strictly to head off a common human response to rules. We have learned in what are known as “validation studies” that readers respond negatively to a series of perceived threats in an instruction. Validation studies ask random individuals from varied backgrounds and occupations to read a series of rules or statements. The readers are then queried about their impressions after reading the statements. This is also how validation of survey questions and test questions is studied. The responses from the readers are analyzed to see how many of the respondents had the same reaction. This does two things. First, it assures that the reader of the questions interprets the questions with the same intent as the writer. Second, this is also where the accuracy numbers come from when you hear a report on political or social issues in the news.

Now, back to the purpose statement. Statement 1 sets the standard, the intent of which is the prevention of any incidents. The second part of the intent of Statement 1 is to eliminate careless operation. Statement 1 doesn’t prohibit use of ATVs/UTVs, but it does establish rules for use.

Statement 2 sets the standard as an operating policy, indicating that it is the rule, not a suggestion. The statement is well-positioned for two reasons. The first reason, as described above, is that it separates two negative statements. But Statement 3 also serves to reinforce the importance of Statement 2. It subtly tells the reader that this is a policy for operating ATVs/UTVs, and failure to follow the provisions of the policy has consequences.

Administrative Policy Statements
Every written policy should include administrative policy statements. That means listing who is in charge of the policy, plus how revisions can be made and approved and who can make them. Without such guidelines, anyone can assume they have the authority to adjust or change employer policies. Here is what that section might look like:

Policy Revisions
This policy is administered by corporate safety. Revisions to this policy are controlled and approved by corporate safety.

This policy is subject to periodic review and update to improve safety for our workers and the public, to comply with changes in state and federal administrative law, and to meet the needs of the company and our clients.

The requirements of state and federal laws, local landowner agreements and client policy may supersede some or all provisions of this policy. Superseding rules shall not have safety-related requirements less stringent than the policies in this standard.

Where conflicts arise, the more stringent provisions apply, and regional business unit managers are responsible for approving changes and notifying the corporate safety department that changes have been made.

Criteria for ATV/UTV Use
Now that we have bulletproofed the administration of the policy, it’s time to establish the rules. Here are recommendations based on my experience and the standards that apply:

  1. ATVs/UTVs must be approved for use on a project by the respective regional manager with the acknowledgement of corporate and the safety department.
  2. Work site supervisors or safety personnel shall conduct a work site review of the ATV/UTV policy with site personnel and document the policy training on the work site acknowledgement form.
  3. Work site supervisors shall keep the ATV/UTV policy review acknowledgement page on-site with project documents for review by safety and administrative personnel.
  4. Work site supervisors must arrange for qualification of assigned ATV/UTV operators before operation.

Rule 1 above ensures that a high level of approval is required to create a high bar for acceptable use on work sites. Without some rigor in the process, UTVs can show up where they really are not needed, elevating the opportunity for incidents. Strong processes create an awareness and appreciation for having UTVs where needed and respect for the opportunity.

Rule 2 ensures that all personnel on the site understand the policy and who is approved to operate ATVs/UTVs and when. This review should fit right in with the site orientation of every worker on the job. Rule 2 also meets a longtime philosophy of my employer, the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction (ISPC). A policy or procedure is only as good as the training you conduct when you roll it out. Every employee – not just the ATV/UTV operators – must be aware of the policy rules. If you don’t train everybody, someone who doesn’t review the policy will think there is no reason they can’t use the ATV/UTV.

In Rule 4, you read a reference to qualification of operators. It makes sense that the next section of the policy should be how workers are qualified as ATV/UTV operators.

Operator Qualification Rules

  1. Operators must be assigned as an ATV or a UTV operator by the project general foreman or the foreman’s designee.
  2. ATV/UTV operators shall be qualified by a regional safety supervisor or designee.
  3. ATV riders shall have completed the ATV Safety Institute’s online adult rider ATV safety course at https://atvsafety.org. Under certain remote site conditions, this requirement may be waived.
  4. ATV/UTV operator candidates shall demonstrate inspection and knowledge of machine operation observed by a licensed competent operator assigned by site management.
  5. ATV/UTV operators shall not operate an assigned vehicle until they have received the required qualification and read the operator’s guide for the equipment they are assigned to operate.

Rule 4 is an important rule, and here is an example why. I once had a crew on a job site that did not read the UTV operator’s manual, assuming they were experienced enough to handle the task. Before they took the UTV out on the mountainous right-of-way, they checked over the machine. They found that each of the tires had only about 8 pounds of air. The crew filled them to 25 pounds, not knowing that the manual stated 8 pounds and that 8 pounds was critical to control of the vehicle. At 25 pounds of air per tire, a bump in the road can bounce the machine off the ground surface, and on return the machine will continue to bounce until you could lose control. That is exactly what happened to this crew. Going downhill on a new right-of-way road covered in crushed granite, they started bouncing, and yes, they were going too fast, which didn’t help. Eventually, the machine turned sideways and rolled over three times downhill on the granite road. The occupants were wearing their seat belts, but their upper torsos were pushed outside the protection of the frame, so they repeatedly did upper body and face plants on the road during each roll. We were fortunate to have a former paramedic on the crew, plus trauma kits, so the injured occupants were fairly stabilized by the time the helicopter arrived to take them to a week’s stay in the hospital. The entire loss of control was precisely due to the air pressure in the UTV’s tires. Had the crew read the eight-page operating manual, they would have known that. Later, in his hospital interview, one of the crew members said he didn’t know how much air was in the tires because the air gauge with the machine was only 0 to 15 pounds, so they pumped them up until they felt solid.

Rule 5 above ensures compliance with OSHA 29 CFR 1926.950(b)(7), “Demonstration of proficiency,” which states, “The employer shall ensure that each employee has demonstrated proficiency in the work practices involved before that employee is considered as having completed the training required by paragraph (b) of this section.” This requirement that the employer ensure proficiency is also in the General Industry standard at 1910.269(a)(2).

ATV/UTV Operating Requirements
Now that we have administration and operator qualification out of the way, let’s take a look at operating policy rules:

  1. Operators, selected by site supervision, shall be licensed, shall be familiar with the operating characteristics of the equipment they are to drive and shall have reviewed the operator manuals for such equipment.
  2. ATVs/UTVs shall not be operated unless the operator manuals are on-site and readily available to operators.
  3. ATVs/UTVs shall be trailered to off-road work areas (transport of ATVs/UTVs on trucks is permitted when properly loaded and secured).

Rule 3 is practical in that it keeps ATVs/UTVs off roads to the right-of-way for two reasons. The first is that ATVs/UTVs must be registered and licensed to operate on a roadway. Second, roadways are high-speed and present unnecessary risk. ATVs/UTVs are there for the right-of-way, so keeping them off the roadways lowers risk.

  1. Other than rights-of-way to access terrains that can’t be navigated by conventional trucks, ATVs/UTVs shall not be operated on dirt roads, improved or paved roads, or any roadway where a truck can be driven.
  2. ATV/UTVs shall be operated at speeds and in a manner reasonable for the prevailing ground and weather conditions. When the option is available, UTVs shall be speed-governed to less than 20 mph.
  3. All seats on a UTV shall be installed or approved for aftermarket installation by the UTV manufacturer.
  4. All riders on a UTV shall be seated and wearing seat belts while the vehicle is in motion.
  5. Unsecured cargo shall not be transported in compartments with UTV passengers.
  6. UTVs shall have at least a three-point seat belt comprised of a lap belt and shoulder strap. When a three-point belt system is not available and cannot be installed, drivers and riders must wear helmets with face protection that are approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  7. ATV/UTV use and limits of use shall be discussed in the daily job briefing and task hazard analysis.
  8. The designated operators of ATVs/UTVs shall be noted in the daily job briefing.
  9. An ATV/UTV operator shall wear work boots, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, work gloves, ANSI-approved safety glasses and a traffic safety vest unless wearing an approved high-contrast safety-color shirt.
  10. ATV operators shall also wear a properly fitting DOT-approved helmet with face protection.
  11. In high-dust areas, ATV/UTV operators shall wear goggles.
  12. ATVs/UTVs shall be inspected daily and shall not be operated with safety defects.
  13. UTVs shall have a first aid kit and fire extinguisher on board during operation.
  14. ATVs/UTVs shall be operated with spark-arresting mufflers.
  15. ATVs/UTVs shall not be used recreationally or loaned out during off days.

I hope that you have a policy such as this in place if you use ATVs and/or UTVs. If you don’t have a policy in place, I hope that you will establish one, and I encourage you to use this one if you wish to. If you are using ATVs/UTVs without a comprehensive policy, don’t think that just because you haven’t wrecked one yet, it’s not going to happen. Having a policy sets goals, provides examples of good practices and encourages safe work with a reminder that breaking the rules can get you in trouble – if not hospitalized.

If you decide to adopt the recommendations in this edition of “Focus on Fleet Safety,” you may also be interested in the qualification record that ISPC uses in our ATV/UTV training. Utility Fleet Professional will make it available for download, and I can send you a copy, too. Feel free to contact me at jim@ispconline.com.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn, CUSP, has devoted the last 22 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he is a senior consultant for the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He can be reached at jim@ispconline.com.

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