Safety first

By |  February 4, 2014

We offer several tips for safely operating and maintaining excavators and other mobile equipment.


The top priority for any excavator operator should be the safety of everyone at the site.

Whether it’s an older excavator or one of the new, high-tech, Tier 4 models, operating a large piece of equipment at a crushed-stone or sand-and-gravel operation offers a unique set of challenges. What follow are safety tips for those operating and working around excavators:

The top priority for any operator should be the safety of everyone at the site. Review the example guidelines listed here for best operating safety practices:
■ Do not exceed posted speed limits. If they’re not posted, ask management.
■ Do not make sharp turns or swings. Be mindful of the center of gravity of the machine; do not exceed rated loads.
■ Honk at intersections before proceeding, and make sure there is a clear line of sight.
■ Wear seat belts and personal protective equipment (PPE) as required.
■ Understand company policy on right-of-way.

Machine safety
It’s imperative to manage ­– and where possible, minimize – the safety risks that can occur when operating a machine. Listed here are a few guidelines for everyday use:
■ Inspect the function and/or condition of the doors, hinges, hydraulic hoses, nuts, bolts, tires and other areas.
■ Verify lights, gauges, horns and other similar equipment are in working order; verify fluids are at required levels.
■ Ensure there are no obstructions or debris in the equipment before starting, and that the vehicle is free from leaks of any type.
■ Make sure the operating manual has been reviewed before operating any equipment.

Work environment safety
It is a good practice to have an understanding of the work environment before entering. Here are a few more tips:
■ Inspect the condition of the ground for holes, obstructions, dips and uneven surfaces.
■ Inspect the condition of walls, racks, and vertical and overhead storage.
■ Verify that the area is well lit or can be illuminated with vehicle or machine lighting.
■ Always identify pedestrians and other vehicles – and verify that they see you.

Mounting and dismounting equipment
Mounting and dismounting are two of the most dangerous activities associated with equipment. This is owing to a variety of factors, such as slippery or obstructed surfaces, and rushing or not paying attention to foot or hand placement. To reduce injuries, consider the following:
■ Always read the operation and maintenance manual for proper mount and dismount procedures.
■ Inspect the ground before climbing up or down. Note where feet will be placed to avoid a twisted or sprained ankle.
■ Always check the condition of the steps, ladders and rails for mud, water, ice, dust or any other material that could cause slips.
■ Always maintain three points of contact when mounting and dismounting equipment. This means always have two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot in contact with the machine at all times. Doing so means not carrying items when mounting or dismounting equipment. If carrying items up and down from the cab is necessary, place the item(s) on a bench or a ledge of the equipment and stagger step the items up or down with the extra hand while maintaining three points of contact. Alternatively, use a rope to raise or lower the items.
■ Always mount and dismount while facing the equipment.
■ Inspect the condition of rails and guarding for damage and effectiveness.
■ Always close and latch gates, as required, for fall protection.
■ Close doors to the equipment in case the outside grab bars are used as handles while climbing in or out.
■ Do not rush. Take the time needed to properly enter and exit the equipment. Do not skip steps or rungs in the ladder.

Diesel fuel
There are three primary concerns associated with diesel fuel:

1. Flammability: Diesel fuel is not nearly as flammable as gasoline or other common fuels (such as ethanol or propane), but it can catch fire and become difficult to extinguish. Do not smoke around diesel fuel.

2. Inhalation: If diesel vapors are inhaled it can cause dizziness, nausea and increased blood pressure, among other symptoms.

3. Skin exposure: Diesel fuel can be absorbed through the skin very easily. It can cause skin irritation, redness and even burns. If the diesel is not cleaned off, it will adsorb into the skin and cause symptoms identical to inhalation.

What can you do to limit the harmful effects of diesel fuel?
■ When fueling diesel-powered vehicles or machinery, do so in a well ventilated area.
■ If vehicles must be used indoors or in enclosed spaces, extra ventilation should be provided to remove diesel exhaust.
■ Wear gloves when working with diesel. Do not use vinyl or butyl rubber gloves with diesel, as they offer no protection.
■ Maintain diesel vehicles, and routinely check emission control devices.

Long-term safety: Noise reduction
For the average person, hearing loss begins in early adulthood. From that point on, your hearing diminishes as you grow older. It is extremely important, then, to protect your hearing level. The best way to reduce hearing loss is to protect your ears from extreme sound levels.

What is considered to be extreme? Most regulatory agencies consider 85 decibels (dBA) for an eight-hour period to be an extreme sound. This noise level is equivalent to a vacuum cleaner. Interestingly, to most of us, this noise does not seem very loud. However, studies have shown that even moderate noise over long periods of time can wear down the sensitive components of the inner ear.

This can seem quite surprising to the average heavy equipment operator. After all, these operators are working around large diesel engines for long periods of time.

How to help protect against hearing loss:
■ Use engineered controls to stop the sound from reaching the human ear. A muffler system is the perfect example. Also, by shrouding the engine compartment and shrouding the cab, noise from the engine and other mechanisms can be reduced significantly.
■ Also use administrative controls to help protect employees – signs that read “Hearing Protection Required,” for example. Training is another example.
■ Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be used when engineered and administrative controls have been applied and sound levels are still high. Earmuffs or earplugs are effective PPE.

When operating heavy equipment, keep your ears in mind. Do you have to talk loudly to be heard? It is possible that you are working in an environment with excessive noise.
■ If possible, make sure the cab is sealed well and the windows are shut.
■ Keep a set of disposable earplugs with you. Employers typically supply these to employees for free. They are great at cutting down moderate noise.
■ Turn down the cab radio. Loud music is a big contributor to long-term hearing loss.

Take note
Always maintain three points of contact when mounting and dismounting equipment. This means always have two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot in contact with the machine at all times.

Information for this article courtesy of Caterpillar Inc.

Photo: Caterpillar

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