Thousands of construction job site injuries involve being struck by or caught-in/between heavy equipment. Safe practices decrease these risks.
Visually inspect equipment before using to ensure it’s in good working condition. This includes a check for fluid levels and ensuring cab windows, mirrors and doors are closed.
Properly securing equipment during transport is important to protect the machinery and adhere to cargo securement regulations.
Know Your Machine
Heavy equipment plays a key role in many construction projects, but it can also be dangerous for job site employees if not properly used. Whether it’s a bulldozer, backhoe loader or motor grader, even the safest crew can run into trouble if they don’t follow the right procedures. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind when operating a piece of large machinery.
Before starting a shift, inspect your machine thoroughly to ensure it’s ready for use. This includes everything from ensuring the tires are in good condition to checking for obstructions that could interfere with operation. In addition, always make sure to lock the cab and release the parking brake when you’re done with your shift. Falling from heavy equipment is the number one cause of construction site deaths, so this step is especially crucial to follow.
All large equipment vehicles have blind spots that can lead to accidents if an operator fails to watch for stranded workers or other hazards. Before attempting to drive any piece of equipment, ensure the surrounding area is clear of overhead obstacles like power lines and metal rods. If you’re working on a job site that requires digging, ensure underground utilities are marked before starting any work.
If you’re transporting your equipment between jobsites, it’s just as important to follow proper securing guidelines to prevent accidents during the trip. Failure to do so can result in damage, a loss of productivity and costly fines. Learn more about these and other best practices for transporting heavy equipment.
Know Your Crew
As important as it is to know the equipment you’re working on, it’s equally important to understand the team around you. Every construction project requires a crew of workers, and many of those workers need to work on or around heavy equipment throughout the day. Each crew member should be trained on the specific equipment they’ll use and receive a thorough understanding of all the safety features associated with that machinery.
Each crew should also be made aware of common heavy equipment accidents like rollovers, struck by accidents and caught in/between accidents. This training can help prevent these types of accidents and save lives on the job site.
A safe job site is essential when you’re using heavy equipment, and this begins with the loading, transport and unloading processes. Whenever possible, store your equipment indoors with protective covers like cribbing and crane mats to prevent dust, dirt and moisture from damaging the machine.
Before each shift, each operator should perform a thorough inspection of the machine to ensure that it’s ready to go before beginning its work. Catching small issues during an inspection can save you time and money in the long run by preventing costly repairs later on. All equipment should be parked and secured with the parking brake engaged before being turned off or left in gear. When backing up, all equipment should be slowed to a safe speed and the operators should always have a spotter present to verify that they can safely complete any desired maneuver.
A spotter should be assigned to each piece of equipment that is going to be manned during a shift. Spotters can provide backup for the operator by identifying obstacles in the equipment’s path and helping to avoid accidents. They should be familiar with the machine and have access to its operating manual to be able to accurately assess its blind spots. Spotters should also be equipped with two-way radios to communicate with the equipment operator throughout the day and be capable of redirecting pedestrians or oncoming traffic.
Know Your Environment
Heavy equipment is a huge hazard on construction sites and poses numerous accidents – both to people and property. However, these are often avoidable with a few simple protocol steps like implementing a safety plan.
Make sure to keep your job site clear of debris and other material that could cause an accident, as well as any obstacles in the path of your machinery. This can help your operators see their surroundings, allowing them to operate safely and prevent damage to equipment.
Before you start up your machinery each shift, do a visual inspection to look for cracked or split hoses, loose or missing parts, undercarriage issues and stress points, and fluid leaks. Also, be sure to check that headlights, taillights, brake lights, windshield wipers and audible warning systems are working properly. If you aren’t able to do a thorough check, consult your operator’s manual to ensure that the machine is ready for use.
Maintaining your equipment will keep it in a better condition, and you’ll spend less money on repair costs in the long run. Investing in regular cooling system analysis can give you detailed information about contaminants and preventative measures that can keep your engine running smoothly for longer.
Finally, it’s a good idea to invest in ground protection like crane mats and cribbing to protect your equipment from moisture, dirt and other damaging elements. Ideally, you should store your machinery indoors as much as possible to keep it in optimal condition and prevent rust.
Transporting your equipment requires careful planning and adherence to strict regulations. Make sure you select an experienced hauler and that your equipment is secured with parking brakes, wheel chocks or cradles. Failure to properly secure your equipment during transport can lead to damage and expensive fines.
Know Your OSHA Requirements
Heavy equipment is extremely dangerous and requires proper training before a worker can operate it. Using this knowledge, it’s possible to avoid accidents and injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has strict guidelines for working with heavy machinery.
Heavy machinery must be inspected prior to each use and must pass inspection. Workers should also be trained to follow manufacturer’s operating guidelines and OSHA best practices. Training should include both classroom and hands-on instruction to ensure that employees understand the machinery.
Workers should always wear ear plugs or protective ear muffs when operating and working around heavy equipment. This will prevent them from hearing any sounds that could cause an injury. A clean job site is also important, as debris can block the equipment and create a hazard for other workers.
Before a machine is started, a visual inspection should be conducted. It’s critical to check tires, tracks and any other parts that may be damaged or worn. Any exposed electrical wires should be deenergized or, if that’s not possible, barriers must be placed to keep equipment away from them. Also, if digging is part of the work to be done, workers should make sure all underground utilities are marked and that any excavations are properly backfilled.
In addition, all equipment should have a rollover protective structure (ROPS) meeting OSHA requirements and a seat belt to prevent the operator from being thrown out of the seat during a tip over or upset. It’s also important that a guard rail and toe board be provided for every elevated open-sided platform, floor or wall hole into which a worker could fall. Finally, all workers should participate in inspections of their work areas and facilities to identify hazards.
Know Your Limits
Operating heavy equipment is a demanding job. Even if you are a seasoned veteran, working in hot environments or being exposed to certain hazards can wear on you and slow your reflexes. It’s important for all workers to know their physical limits. If you’re uncomfortable operating a piece of machinery, ask to get out. This can keep you safe and prevent injuries on the worksite.
Many accidents involving heavy equipment involve the individual being struck by it or caught in or between machines. Other common injuries include falls and climbing onto or off of equipment. Ensure you have three points of contact when getting on or off equipment, and never jump! Also, be sure to close all hydraulic controls when dismounting or reversing. Finally, if you’re not using a machine for several days or weeks, be sure to cover it with a tarp and shrink wrap it.
If you’re a fleet manager, it’s important to have a system in place for logging all maintenance and repairs on your equipment. Using a digital tracking solution like GoCodes can help your team stay organized and streamline the repair process.
Lastly, when managing equipment for transport, make sure your crew understands FMCSA tie down requirements. For example, you’ll need to know that each component of a cargo securement system has a maximum working load limit (WLL) and all tie downs combined must be rated to support at least 1/2 times the weight of the load.
While some accidents will always happen, you can prevent most incidents with open communication, up-to-date procedures and regular safety meetings. By following these tips, you’ll improve your team’s safety and productivity while on the job site.