What your operators should know before using construction equipment

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 4,251 fatalities were reported in private industry in 2014, and approximately 21 percent of those fatalities were construction related. The leading causes of death were falls, followed by electrocution, being struck by an object and being caught in between objects. These "fatal four" causes were responsible for more than half of the construction worker deaths in 2014. Eliminating these four causes would save the lives of 508 individuals in the United States each year.

It is crucial that every equipment operator has a safety mindset, especially in construction applications, and apply the following four tips to help promote a safer work environment and reduce accidents that can result in injuries.

1. Understand equipment safety features

Many manufacturers have added or enhanced equipment safety features and smarter technologies to their articulated dump trucks (ADTs), excavators and wheel loaders to better protect operators while on the jobsite. Since construction equipment is used on a variety of jobsites, it is important that it be equipped with safety features as needed for each specific application. Most construction equipment today has large cab windows that enable operators to maintain good visibility on all sides of the machine, including front-mounted attachments. Operators should be able to see their attachments working at ground level from a normal, seated position in the cab. Being able to comfortably see the front, top, sides and the tracks on the attachment is important for safe machine operation.

Machine lighting is another important safety feature for operators who work early in the morning and continue to work late into the night. Owners and operators should not neglect changing lights in order to ensure they are working properly and providing the necessary light to see the work conditions.

Advanced technologies, such as auto idle, which automatically reduces engine RPM when machine functions are not used for a predetermined amount of time, are available on newer machines. Auto shutdown, which helps reduce unnecessary noise by shutting down the machine's engine after a set period of inactivity, is another feature available on newer models.

Multifunctional display panels show critical machine data, such as speed, engine rpm, transmission gear, machine warnings, coolant temperature and transmission oil temperature. Some manufacturers offer display panels that provide machine parameters while showing the rearview or sideview camera image. Other construction equipment safety features contractors should consider include:

  • Rollover protective structure (ROPS) and falling object protective structure (FOPS)
  • Front guard
  • Hydraulic locking differentials
  • Heated mirrors
  • Emergency steering
  • Additional machine guards for demolition applications

2. Educate before operating equipment

Every construction equipment operator should have a general understanding of basic operating procedures, such as controls, gauges, signals, indicators and monitor displays, before operating the equipment itself. The machine's operation and maintenance manual is the primary guide for proper heavy equipment operation and maintenance.

The manual is provided upon delivery from a local dealership and can be kept in the machine\'92s cab for quick operator reference. Trained and authorized operators should follow all safety rules, regulations and instructions when operating.

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) safety manuals serve as complementary references for construction equipment operators and are available in print or digital formats.

AEM is a trade association that provides global services to companies that manufacture equipment, products and services. In addition to listing general operating procedures, safety manuals also encourage operators to wear protective clothing and personal safety devices as required by the employer or current jobsite conditions.

Safety and instructional decals are strategically placed on the interior and exterior of heavy equipment to alert the operator about potential hazards, the consequences of injury and instructions on how to avoid those hazards. Any decals that become worn, damaged or missing should be replaced by visiting a local heavy equipment dealership. Operators should review the decals prior to operation and performing maintenance.

A dealership is also a good resource for hands-on equipment training. Dealers have the product knowledge and experience to help troubleshoot and maintain a machine. They understand and can articulate new technologies and encourage demonstrations. Some manufacturers provide instructional videos on how to properly operate and maintain construction equipment.

3. Examine the machine

Promoting a safety mindset also means performing routine maintenance on any piece of construction equipment in your fleet. Before using a piece of equipment, operators should take a few minutes to walk around the machine to look for potential problems that might hinder operation. The following list includes items to inspect.

  • Check for broken, missing or damaged parts.
  • Check for damaged or missing safety or instructional decals.
  • Check tires for tearing or over-inflation.
  • Check wheels for damaged rims and missing or loose wheel nuts or bolts./li>
  • Review tracks for broken or damaged pins, bushings or other track parts.
  • Replace worn or damaged tires and tracks.
  • Check the fluid levels, including engine hydraulic oil and coolants.
  • Look for evidence of leaks, have any leaks repaired and fill fluid to the proper level.
  • Remove any flammable debris from the engine compartment, the battery box, around exhaust components, under the machine and around rotating parts.
  • Inspect lights, cab glass, side mirror and rearview camera for damage.
  • Clean and inspect all walking surfaces, steps and grab handles.
  • Ensure that the ROPS and FOPS are in good condition.

Equipment operators should be authorized to complete routine maintenance and possess the necessary skills and tools to complete the job correctly. Some maintenance items may need to be completed by an authorized equipment dealership. Typically maintenance procedures, which are provided in the operation and maintenance manual, can be performed by the owner or operator without any specific technical training.

4. Know the jobsite & surrounding areas

Operators should get a feel for the work area and look for potential dangers, such as underground or overhead utility lines, narrow roadways, sharp curves and soft ground conditions, which should be assessed before using construction equipment. Underground utilities should be identified and clearly marked before any operators start excavating. Make sure there are no bystanders and use barrier tape, traffic cones or gates to keep other individuals and equipment out of the work area.

Following these four safety tips can help operators be better equipped on active jobsites and minimize risk of injury.

Jobsite Safety Checklist

Trained and authorized operators should follow all safety rules, regulations and instructions when operating. The following checklist can help your team maintain a safety standard.

  • Wear personal protective equipment.
  • Inspect the work area.
  • Call 811 to pinpoint the location of underground and overhead utilities.
  • Complete a machine walkaround before use.
  • Use three points of contact when entering or exiting the machine.
  • Practice safe starting procedures.
  • Exhibit proper operating techniques.
  • Maintain attachments and the machine on a routine basis.