Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA


Employees were exposed to the hazard of rolling overboard and drowning while operating a front-end loader on an unguarded open deck barge.


Employees unload sand from an open deck barge into a hopper on an adjacent barge using a crane and front end loader.

Activity at time of incident:

A front-end loader operator had finished unloading a sand barge and was on the barge backing up toward the stern.

Incident Description


Longshoremen are transferring sand from an open deck barge into a hopper on an adjacent barge, using a front-end loader to push the sand into piles, and using a crane to load the piles into the hopper. The two barges are secured together by cables. The cable is pulled by a winch and moves the barge along the dockside to center its load in front of the hopper where the sand is loaded by crane. A vehicle access ramp leads between the two barges and a second ramp leads from the machine barge (the barge with the hopper) to shore. The open sand barge deck is 195 feet long and 35 feet wide. The barge's surface is about 8 feet above the river, and the river is about 35 feet deep at this point. A sand barrier is in place about 25 feet from the ends of the sand barge to alert equipment operators that they are approaching the edge.


The longshoremen had just completed unloading the sand barge and were waiting for a cable to be changed before starting to unload another sand barge. The supervisor had left the barge to retrieve the cable, instructing the front-end loader operator to remain on the empty barge until he returned. The front-end loader operator, who was positioned near the bow of the sand barge, began slowly backing up towards the stern. Three crew members standing on the ramp between the machine barge and the sand barge thought the operator was coming towards them to join them. But rather than stopping once he reached the ramp, the front-end loader operator continued to back up, rolling over the sand barrier about 25 feet from the edge and traveling a total of 127 feet along the barge deck. By the time the operator looked behind him, it was too late to stop the vehicle as the two rear wheels were rolling off the barge. The right rear wheel caught on a steel cable attached to the barge, causing the front-end loader to tilt to the left and fall into the river on its left side. The operator, who was still inside the cab as the front-end loader entered the water, was assumed to have died by drowning. His body was not recovered.

Relevant Factors:

Employees who witnessed the event were not able to explain why the front-end loader operator backed off the end of the barge. They believe that he lost his orientation or was distracted. As the front-end loader approached the edge, one crew member began yelling and waving the operator away from the edge. However, the victim apparently misunderstood the communication, since he smiled and continued to back up. There was no sufficient means to alert him of the nearing edge.

The sand barrier that had been in place approximately 25 feet from the ends of the deck was not effective in preventing the loader from backing through it.

The operator was not wearing a life jacket but had one with him in the cab.

The front-end loader was reportedly in good mechanical condition at the time of the incident.

Applicable Standards and Control Measures
  • 29 CFR 1918.65(h)(9): Mechanically powered vehicles used aboard vessels - Operation. "When lift trucks or other mechanically powered vehicles are being operated on open deck type barges, the edges of the barges shall be guarded by railings, sideboards, timbers, or other means sufficient to prevent vehicles from rolling overboard."

This hazard could have been prevented if the employer had installed railings along the edges of the open deck to prevent the front-end loader from rolling overboard.

Other Relevant Standards and/or Control Measures

Operators of machinery such as front-end loaders must be properly trained regarding the hazards and safe work practices for operating the machinery on an open barge in accordance with 29 CFR 1918.98(a)(1).

Falls/Drowning Accidents No. 6: The front-end loader operator accidentally backed off the barge and drowned. The barge edge had been improperly guarded with a sand barrier 25 feet from barge edge.

Falls/Drowning Accidents No. 6: The front-end loader operator accidentally backed off the barge and drowned.
The barge edge had been improperly guarded with a sand barrier 25 feet from barge edge.

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