Operation of heavy mobile equipment such as excavators, loaders, graders, rollers, and bulldozers, can create hazardous situations when operated in proximity to other equipment and workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 20% of construction industry fatalities involve heavy equipment.
Hazards include workers being:
- Struck by moving equipment
- Crushed between equipment and other objects
- Subjected to electrical contact while operating a vehicle or equipment
- Struck by an inadequately secured load while being lifted or moved
- Struck or crushed by equipment tipping over
Employers, operators and workers must understand and follow best practices to minimize the recognized hazards.
Current Safety Best Practices
Proactive safety measures, such as planning, safety training, rules and supervision help to increase the awareness of close proximity issues for construction workers and operators.
- Allow only trained and qualified operators to operate heavy equipment.
- Be sure operators and mechanics are trained by qualified persons experienced with the model of heavy equipment being used.
- Rent or buy only heavy equipment that has rollover protective structures (ROPSs) and seat belts.
- Use only flatbed/lowboy trucks and ramps that are suitable for transporting heavy equipment.
- Ensure that a copy of the operating manual is on all machinery or available to the operator.
- Identify the hazards of overhead and underground power lines and utilities and establish procedures for working around them.
- Prevent unauthorized access to worksite.
- Develop plans to show how construction vehicles and heavy equipment will enter, move, and leave the work zone
- Design the workspace so that backing up and blind spots are minimal
- Set a limited access zone and/or a swing radius for each piece of equipment.
- Use barriers to separate workers on foot, pedestrians, and vehicles from moving equipment, where possible.
- Provide training on equipment hand signals.
- Provide trained spotters or signal persons to alert operators to workers or pedestrians in the blind spots of the equipment – including workers in trenches or manholes.
Heavy-equipment operators should be trained and required to:
- Review operating, safety, and shutdown procedures in the operator’s manual before working with new equipment.
- Check/inspect the equipment and controls every day before beginning work.
- Keep grease and fluids off the walking/working surfaces and use 3 points of contact when entering and exiting equipment to prevent slips and falls.
- Not travel or work parallel to steep grades or embankments or on unstable soil to prevent rollovers.
- Not jump if equipment is rolling over or out of control, providing it has a ROPS and seatbelt.
- Always put the transmission in park, shut off the motor, set the brakes, and perform any other needed shutdown procedures/lockout of controls and/or attachments before working on or around the equipment.
- Move equipment only after positive visual contact (seeing each other’s eyes) has been made and confirmed with workers on foot.
- Not back up unless certain no one is behind. Use mirrors, where appropriate.
- Not depend only on backup alarms. They are not always heard on noisy construction sites.
- When loading or unloading materials, make sure that only essential workers are in the area and have a spotter/signal person. No one should be under a suspended load.
- Never allow other workers to ride on equipment.
- Not speed; be extra careful around other traffic, hills, obstacles, and curves.
All workers should be trained to:
- Recognize and avoid the hazards of working on foot around vehicles and heavy construction equipment by staying away and working at safe distances.
- Recognize and stay away from the blind spots of heavy equipment and vehicles.
- Be alert to potential hazards that may be created by another contractor’s employees.
- Work within the line of sight of the equipment operator and maintain visual contact with the operator.
- Wear high visibility safety clothing including retroreflective gloves, arm bands, and other accessories.
Future Safety Best Practices
Pro-active safety measures, and conformance with OSHA regulations, are vital to promote safety in construction.
Technological advances that lessen reliance on the human element have emerged in recent years. These are becoming more affordable and provide greater levels of construction work site safety.
Camera systems that effectively eliminate blind spots are standard features on today’s automobiles. In fact, back up cameras will be required for all new light vehicles by May 2018. Can such a requirement for construction equipment be far behind? Major equipment manufacturers already offer camera systems as optional equipment. A search of the internet for “construction backup cameras” will reveal numerous suppliers able to retrofit existing equipment.
Proximity detection systems are an emerging technology. Such systems will detect the presence of construction equipment and activate alarms to warn both operators and workers of hazardous proximity issues.
Controlling the recognized hazards associated with heavy mobile equipment is a challenge that must be met. Planning, supervision, training and vigilance are essential. But these are heavily reliant on human factors. Technology is available today that enables construction worksites to be safer, and more profitable. We encourage you to explore the many options available. Our experienced Loss Control Representatives and our Virtual Loss Control team are available to offer guidance to our policy holders.