Heavy equipment is a necessity on nearly every construction project. Unfortunately, they can be extremely dangerous when not used properly. Rollovers, struck by accidents and caught in or between accidents are common ways workers can be injured when working on or near heavy equipment.
Follow these safety tips when working with heavy equipment on the construction site to ensure you stay productive and maintain an accident-free jobsite:
Workers should be trained on the proper procedures to safely operate all pieces of equipment they will be working on. Training should be conducted as a combination of classroom and practical hands-on instruction. Topics that should be covered include safety, hazard identifications, safety features of the equipment and safe maneuvering of the heavy equipment.
Workers should be trained on how to safely mount and dismount and the proper start up procedure for each piece of equipment. They should have a clear understanding of lifting loads and load capacity for the equipment they will be working on. Retraining and refresher courses should be conducted as needed, especially if a worker is observed operating equipment unsafely or in a manner other than its intended purpose. Only trained workers should be allowed to operate equipment for any reason.
Be aware of your surroundings
When operating heavy equipment, you need to mindful of the area you are working in and any obstacles you may encounter. Overhead power lines should be deenergized, or if that’s not possible, establish barriers to avoid making contact with them. If digging, make sure that all underground utilities, such as sewer, water, gas and electrical, have been identified and clearly marked to avoid damaging them and creating delays and more work.
Whenever possible, workers should be kept out of areas where heavy equipment is in operating. Operators should be aware of their swing radius, especially when working in tighter spaces, to avoid hitting other workers, bystanders, or other vehicles or equipment in the vicinity.
Entering and exiting equipment
This one should go without saying, but based on the number of injuries workers suffer each year, but there is a right and a wrong way to mount and dismount from heavy equipment. When climbing onto equipment, always maintain three points of contact just like you do when climbing a ladder. Never carry anything with you as you enter or exit the cab. Never jump out of the cab or off the equipment to exit.
Never enter or exit equipment that is moving or in operation. Make sure you completely shut off the equipment, engage the parking brake and release any pressure from hydraulic controls. Make sure to take the keys with you to avoid any unauthorized use.
Conduct a visual inspection before use
Visually inspect heavy equipment before each use to ensure it’s in good operating condition. Check tires and tracks for any wear and damage. At the very least, you should check fluid levels such as engine oil and hydraulic fluid and oil levels before you start up the equipment for the first time each day. Check hydraulic hoses, buckets, booms and other components for cracks and damage. Make sure all attachments are securely locked into place.
When you fire up the equipment, make sure the lights, gauges, horn and backup alarms are all working properly. Make sure all arms, shovels, buckets, etc. fully extend in all directions. If the cab rotates, check to make sure it can do so in all directions. Never use equipment that isn’t working properly or appears damaged. Not only could you damage the machine further, but it could be a major safety issue if not fixed before use.
Only use equipment for its intended purpose
Each piece of equipment was designed to perform a specific task. Excavators aren’t cranes and wheel loaders weren’t made to carry workers in the bucket and used as an aerial lift. Pick the right piece of equipment for the task at hand and use it as the manufacturer intended.
Don’t overload or overwork equipment. Be mindful of the payload or lift capacity of the equipment. This may require getting a bigger piece of equipment if what you have isn’t enough to get the job done. If lifting material, make sure all riggings are properly secured. Don’t try to go too fast when operating equipment, especially on slopes.
Always wear your seatbelt
Those seatbelts aren’t just a suggestion, they could save your life. In the event the equipment starts to tip or roll over, the seatbelt is probably going to keep you alive. If equipment starts to tip or roll over, you might instinctively be compelled to jump out of the cab. Unfortunately, that is the worst thing you could possibly do. The equipment could tip back the other way and fall on as you make your escape or you could get caught or flung out as it rolls over and seriously injured.
The rollover protection system installed on the equipment is intended to keep you safe in such an event. The seatbelt will keep you from getting jostled around and banged up or flung from the cab.
Keep the area clear
Ideally, you can cordon off the area with barriers to keep workers from accidentally getting in close proximity to operating equipment. If you are moving or operating equipment near workers use a spotter, using radio or hand signals to communicate, to keep your blind spots clear. This is especially important when backing up. Yes, the equipment will have backup alarms, but they often go unheeded on construction sites due to their prevalence.
Other tips to remember
Always wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, safety glasses, sturdy boots and hard hats.
When loading and unloading equipment at the site, make sure you do it on level ground to avoid rollovers when getting it on or off the truck or trailer.
Follow lock-out/tag-out procedures when servicing or performing maintenance on equipment. Make sure parking brakes are engaged and use chocks to block the wheels.
Working with or around heavy equipment should be part of your overall safety program. All workers should be trained on the dangers and hazards of working with heavy equipment.