Follow these tips to ensure the safety of your workforce.

Safety is the primary consideration in all construction machinery manufacturing designs, but safety concerns are just as important after machines leave the warehouse. Whatever product and brand, safe operation of compaction equipment depends on its users.

 The first step in operational safety is always using the right tool for the job. Soil compactors are traditionally categorized by size, weight, model and type. Each model has advantages and limitations and has been designed for specific soil compaction needs. All operators should be aware of the limitations listed below and only use the appropriate machine:

  • Rammers, more commonly called jumping jacks, use a percussive compaction system and are best for small areas and moist soil.
  • Vibratory plate soil compactors move in one direction for compaction depths from six to 12 inches.
  • Reversible vibrating plate soil compactors are better for larger areas with compaction depths from 24 to 42 inches.
  • Walk-behind smooth drum rollers are designed for both soil and asphalt compaction.
  • Trench rollers use sheep-foot-style drums for maximum traction in trenches and on-site work for heavy construction. These machines are operated by a remote or hands-on control.

Soil compactor manufacturers incorporate many safety features into the design of their hand-guided soil compactors. These provide protection both for the operator and the machine and vary among companies and models. Users should familiarize themselves with the safety features of their model to maximize their safety and the compactor’s performance.

Here are a few common safety features included in some walk-behind soil compactors:

  • Strategic points for molded isolator rubbers limit the amount of vibration from the exciter to the guide bar, thereby limiting the operator’s hands and arms to excessive vibration exposure.
  • Hydraulic shift controls automatically return to a neutral position when the operator releases the shift control handle.
  • Safety stop switches are activated when the anti-crush device (or so-called dead-man control) comes in contact with any obstruction. The switches cause the machine to stop immediately and shift into neutral.


Your machine may include some of these features and not others. The operator should always know how to maximize safe functionality and employ these features.
Improved functionality and user experience enhance safety. Many companies are producing design features for superior performance. If you are purchasing or renting a soil compactor, compare machines to find the one that fits your needs and will keep your operators safe. Look for features like lifting points for easy transportation and computerized monitoring systems to alert the operator about soil conditions and machine functioning.

Any walk-behind soil compactor should only be used in accordance with its designed capabilities. Any use beyond the compaction of sand, gravel, asphalt, crushed aggregate and trench stabilization is prohibited and could result in machine damage or harm to individuals. Remember, all operators should be mindful of safety at all times to keep the machines running smoothly and to maintain a safe working environment for the equipment operator and jobsite personnel.

Operator Checklist

Safe operation demands constant diligence and should always be the operator's No. 1 priority. Before operating any soil compactor, the operator should understand several things:

  • Using the right tool is essential to safety. The operator should understand the designated use of the machine and use it only for its intended purpose. This includes monitoring the soil type and restricting usage to compatible soil.
  • Safe operation requires a qualified operator. Equipment operators should be at least 18 years old and should understand the instructions for operation and maintenance prior to use.
  • Protective clothing and devices are always recommended. This is neccessary for the safety and comfort of the operator. This includes a hard hat, ear plugs or protectors (noise levels may exceed 90 dbA), work gloves and steel-toed safety boots.
  • The hand-guided soil compactors should be used in well-ventilated areas. This reduces the chance of exposure to harmful exhaust fumes from gasoline or diesel engines.
  • Extreme caution should be taken when operating a machine on unstable ground, such as on slopes or at the edge of an overhang or brink. If it is necessary to compact the soil on a slope, the operator should always position himself on the uphill side of the machine. This way, if the soil becomes unstable and the machine rolls over, the operator will not likely be harmed.
  • Preparation is always the first step in safe operation. Though safety instructions often seem like common sense and reading them might seem like a waste of time, all operators should read any operating or maintenance instructions before using any machine. Instructional booklets commonly provide general safety instructions, detailed information for the safe operation of all types of soil compactors, legends for any mechanical indicators on the compactor and other information that may not be intuitive to even an experienced operator.


Construction Business Owner, March 2011