Modern approaches to mobile equipment safety

By |  October 1, 2020
Photo: John Deere

A seat belt monitoring system is part of the John Deere 444L to 844L wheel loader range. Photo: John Deere

Loaders and excavators are, of course, key tools in aggregate-production environments, requiring continuous safety management.

The number of safety issues that can arise around loaders and excavators is many. Visibility remains a concern with both, especially in high-traffic areas of pits and quarries.

“Wheel loaders in the quarry yard loading on-highway trucks are moving fast, around high stockpiles that block visibility and with their customers entering and exiting the quarry yard at various times and locations,” says Jason Hurdis, a global market professional at Caterpillar. “Excavators, as a best practice, sit on a bench higher than the truck they are loading. Bench failures or bench edge breakaways can occur. Environmental conditions such as snow, rain, fog and light can impact incident occurrence, as well.”

Machine design, regular maintenance practices and tools that support safety management are other areas that enhance the safety environment around loaders and excavators.

“It comes down to operator and jobsite worker awareness of the machine’s movements while working,” says Chad Parker, senior product specialist and product trainer at Hyundai Construction Equipment Americas. “However, it also depends on everyone being aware of the safety features being applied while the machine is sitting idle. Boom safety locks, [the] parking brake and hydraulic switches need to be engaged while the machine is sitting.”

Seat belts and alerts

Photo: Caterpillar

Caterpillar added seat belt indicators to a number of machines, providing visual awareness via external cab lights. Photo: Caterpillar

While seat belts represent a longstanding solution, equipment manufacturers continue to introduce safety provisions to enhance seat belt use. Among these provisions are visibility indicators and built-in monitoring systems.

At Caterpillar, for example, changing a seat belt’s color from black to bright orange allows managers to quickly see if operators are wearing seat belts.

“We have also added seat belt indicators to many machines,” Hurdis says. “These indicators provide visual awareness via external cab lights.”

Additionally, new with the John Deere 444L to 844L wheel loader range is a seat belt monitoring system that checks the seat belt status.

“When the seat belt is in use, a green indicator beacon on the cab illuminates, if equipped,” says Grant Van Tine, solutions marketing manager at John Deere. “If the seat belt is not latched within 30 seconds of releasing the park brake, an alert is reported through JDLink to notify those set up to receive JDLink alerts for the machine, such as a superintendent or equipment manager.

Collision warning and avoidance systems

While alerts are designed to enhance the use of seat belts, collision warning and avoidance systems promote safety across jobsites.



“Spending just a few thousand dollars on an optional safety system like this is much more affordable and will help save lives, versus the millions of dollars a company will pay out due to a lawsuit a company will pay due to [a] jobsite fatality,” Parker says.

According to Parker, Hyundai offers an all-around monitoring system with intelligent motion object detection as an option for customers. Parker believes this optional offering will eventually become the standard in the future.

According to Hurdis, rearview cameras are standard in most Cat machines. Other safety-enhancing technologies are available from Cat, as well. Aggregate producers can add cameras that cover the sides of machines or blind spot radar-detection systems, collision warning systems or even a system monitoring an operator’s eye and head position that vibrates the seat if the operator nods off.



“These systems significantly enhance operator and site safety when used and maintained properly,” Hurdis says.

Cab design is yet another contributor to jobsite safety, Hurdis says. Mirror size and placement, and dash and internal monitor placement each play a role in providing visibility to all key areas of the machine while also eliminating blind spots.

Improving visibility is a focus at John Deere, too. A project underway at the company is an advanced radar object-detection system that builds on existing technology to include projected path lines and escalating alerts.

Still, yet another safety challenge many aggregate operations face is with the equipment operators themselves, as there’s a shortage of skilled equipment operators available today that must be addressed to ultimately take mobile equipment safety to higher levels.

Telematics and safety management

Van Tine

Van Tine

Telematics is another safety feature most manufacturers incorporate within equipment. Through telematic systems, customers can track safety-related statistics in addition to machine location, hours of operation and fuel level.

Statistics related to seat belt use, machine faults such as brake engagement, and other on-board system data are helpful in creating a stronger safety culture, according to Hurdis.

“Customers have to take the data and turn it into action, whether awareness or training for their employees,” Hurdis says. “‘If you can monitor it, you can manage it. And if you can manage it, you can change it’ is a good motto to follow for any operation.”

Through Hyundai’s Hi-Mate telematics system, customers can opt in to monthly and daily operative reports. The reports offer information on machine warnings, faults and upcoming maintenance needs.

Hyundai also offers a mobile app that delivers operation, location, maintenance and alarm information at a glance – a helpful tool for jobsite managers and safety personnel. John Deere offers a similar system through its JDLink mobile app and online dashboard, which includes alert history from the L-Series wheel loader seat belt minder system. Each alert includes details such as date, time, location, machine hours and duration.

“Superintendents and other management personnel can use this information to view trends and take corrective action as needed,” Van Tine says.

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