Heavy Equipment Safety

Originally published 07/05/2017

Only trained, highly skilled construction workers should operate heavy equipment such as excavators, loaders, graders, rollers and bulldozers. Ground-based workers should be trained in how to work safely around the equipment or stay clear. Unsafe practices by either the operator or those around the equipment can create very dangerous situations. Some of the reasons for injury to heavy equipment operators and ground-based workers on a construction site include:

  • Repairing and servicing equipment in dangerous positions,
  • Striking individuals or other vehicles with the equipment – particularly the blade,
  • Unexpected tipping of equipment,
  • Uncontrolled traffic within or through the work area,
  • Unexpected shocks or jars to the machine,
  • Sudden movement of a power unit while it is being attached to earth moving equipment,
  • Limbs of trees or overhead obstructions,
  • Leaving equipment running or in dangerous positions while unattended, and
  • Lifting mechanism failure on the equipment.

Here are a few common safety rules for operators and ground-based workers to consider:

  • Inspect and service your equipment regularly. This should be done in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and by qualified personnel. A pre-shift walk around inspection by the operator is highly recommended.
  • Do not wear loose clothing that can get caught in moving parts of the equipment.
  • Keep deck plates or steps on equipment free from grease, oil, ice and mud. Corded soled shoes are recommended.
  • Check the area for ground-based workers before operating the equipment.
  • Ground-based workers should wear high visibility clothing so they can be seen by the operator. They should also wear their personal protective equipment.
  • Establish a danger zone for ground workers. Be aware of the swing radius on certain equipment and, if possible, cordon off the area with barriers or caution tape.
  • Use a spotter and establish a standardized set of hand signals to be used by the operator and spotter. Two-way radios can sometimes be valuable communication tools.
  • The spotter should maintain eye contact with the operator. This will ensure that they are not in the operator’s blind spot.
  • Make sure the back-up alarm on the equipment is in working order and use it when backing.
  • Employees other than the operator should not ride on equipment.
  • Before starting the motor, the operator should make sure that all operating controls are in the neutral position.
  • Heavy equipment should have a rollover protective structure that meets OSHA requirements.
  • Operator should wear a seat belt at all times.
  • If working on slopes, try to avoid moving across the face of the slope. Operating up and down the slope is best.
  • Keep a safe distance from open excavations.
  • Wear hearing protection when required.
  • Never jump onto or off the equipment. Operators should always use the three-point contact rule when climbing on or off equipment. This means having either both feet and one hand, or having one foot and both hands in contact with the ladder access at all times.
  • If possible, drive equipment entirely off the road at night. If any portion of the machine projects into the road, it should be adequately marked with red lights or flares at night. Use red flags in the daytime.

Injury accidents involving heavy equipment have a high probability of fatality. It is critical that you know and follow your company’s safety rules and procedures when operating or working around heavy equipment.

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