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Construction Equipment Safety Tips

You’ll find heavy equipment used on practically all construction projects across America. From large roadbuilding projects to residential homebuilding, heavy construction equipment is necessary to build and maintain the nation’s infrastructure — and staying safe when working around heavy equipment is vital.

If you work with or around heavy construction equipment, you’ll have a healthy respect for what these powerful machines can do. Whether you’re around a large excavator on a commercial construction site, working with a grader in the roadbuilding industry or operating a skid steer on a residential renovation project, you need to be aware of what your equipment is capable of. That includes what it’s capable of doing to you.

Heavy construction equipment can be dangerous when not used properly, but most workers perform daily duties uninjured. That’s because they’re aware of dangers associated with equipment operation, and they take steps to mitigate potential accidents. These astute operators and helpers truly appreciate the importance of heavy equipment safety.

The Importance of Heavy Equipment Safety

The Importance of Heavy Equipment Safety

You can’t over-emphasize heavy equipment safety importance. The United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) cites the construction industry as one of the most dangerous occupations in America. OSHA statistics report that 4,693 workers were fatally injured on the job in 2016. Of those, 21.1%, or 991 workers, were killed on construction projects. That’s one in five American workers who died due to accidental injuries while working around construction equipment.

According to OSHA, there are four main causes of death and injury to construction workers. OSHA refers to these as the “fatal four” that accounted for two-thirds of all fatal accidents. OSHA further states that eliminating the fatal four accidental causes would save approximately 631 American workers’ lives every year. The fatal four accident causes are:

  1. Falls: Falling from a height or off construction equipment accounted for 38.7% of worker deaths.
  2. Struck by an Object: There were 9.4% of workers who suffered fatal injuries after being hit by an object on a construction site.
  3. Electrocutions: Being accidentally energized by electricity accounted for 8.3% of construction worker deaths.
  4. Caught In-Between: The percentage of American construction workers who died after being caught in-between components of construction machinery or materials was 7.3%.

Lessons learned from OSHA investigations indicate that almost all accidents concerning heavy equipment operation were preventable. Working with state and local partners, OSHA changed direction from an enforcement-based safety approach to educational assistance. With combined efforts of government regulators and private forces like employers, unions and safety experts, American worker fatalities have dropped from 38 deaths per day in 1970 to an average of 14 a day in 2016.

Clearly, people across the construction industry recognized the importance of heavy equipment safety. They also decided to take action and improve conditions on construction sites. That included educating workers and providing them with detailed safety tips. One of the most important focuses was to eliminate, mitigate and reduce hazards for those working around heavy equipment.

Hazards When Working Around Heavy Equipment

Hazards When Working Around Heavy Equipment

While falls and electrocutions are leading injury causes on construction sites, being struck by objects and caught in-between mechanical components and materials pertain more to heavy equipment operation than general site conditions. The key to preventing or reducing equipment-related injuries is to mitigate potentially dangerous conditions and make all workers aware of their situation.

Situational awareness is an all-encompassing term describing worker alertness and knowledge of their job site surroundings. There are three primary principles for defining and identifying worksite hazards. It’s critically important for all workers to be aware of these hazard categories:

1. Mechanical Hazards

All heavy construction equipment has moving parts. It’s the energy stored and being capable of releasing from machinery parts that present danger. When not in motion, most machines are relatively stable and safe. It’s when they’re operating that they have enormous power and the capability of doing severe damage.

When working around machines, watch for moving parts that can reach people. Also, machinery and equipment that can eject objects and strike someone can be dangerous. Common mechanical hazards include rotating shafts, colliding surfaces, scissor or shear action, sharp edges and detachable connections. Risks associated with mechanical hazards are entanglement, crushing, severing, cutting and puncturing as well as slips and falls when dodging moving components.

2. Non-Mechanical Hazards

Not all heavy equipment hazards come from components in motion. Almost all machines have stored energy waiting for release. That can be gasses or fluids under pressure, electrical charges and hot surfaces. Worker hazards from non-mechanical means also include noxious substances like exhaust emissions and chemical by-products. As well, consider the noise hazard that heavy equipment operation generates.

Situationally aware workers always assess their machinery for non-mechanical hazard potential. They realize how heavy equipment affects the area or environment around them. Common non-mechanical hazards are:

  • Dust
  • Explosive or flammable atmospheres
  • Radiated and conducted heat
  • High-intensity light like lasers or welding arc flashes
  • Heavy metals including lead, mercury and cadmium
  • Steam releases
  • Ionizing radiation such as microwaves and X-rays

Health risks from non-mechanical hazards include burns, lung damage and long-term increased risk of cancer-related diseases.

3. Access Hazards

Many workplace injuries and deaths happen because workers have unsafe access around machinery paths. Without safe access to and from a particular point, workers become accidentally trapped and exposed to mechanical and non-mechanical hazards. Being caught in-between dangerous components or struck by objects is avoidable by proper planning, placing safeguards and raising workers’ situational awareness.

Important considerations for mitigating access hazards are considering who is allowed into a hazardous area or situation and what equipment and materials are in operation. Access control must be predicted and planned in advance rather than reacting to an unexpected situation. The most effective solution for minimizing access accidents is effectively communicating all information concerning mechanical and non-mechanical heavy equipment hazards.

Communication and Heavy Equipment Safety

Hazard mitigation involves a series of orders for controlling potentially dangerous situations. If at all possible, hazards should be eliminated altogether or at least substituted by something less dangerous. If that’s not possible, then risk controls are necessary to prevent or reduce the chance of harm or injury. Workplace health and safety regulations make it mandatory to communicate workplace hazards and risk controls. Laws require hazard communications be applied in what’s called the “highest order.”

High-order risk controls immediately communicate safety cautions. Examples of high order communication are non-mistakable signage that clearly identifies existing hazards and prescribes safe actions for workers exposed to them.

Lower-order hazard controls communicate precautions necessary for workers to be safe around potentially dangerous equipment. Prescribing the right personal protective equipment is a lower order communication tactic. So is stipulating safe workplace behaviors like de-energizing equipment and locking out activation devices.

Administrative controls are part of the hazard communication order chain. This involves detailed instructions for safe operation and exposure reduction such as standard operating procedures (SOPs). Verbal communication like toolbox meetings is another effective form of administrative controls for accident prevention.

Many workplaces use administrative controls to pass on safety tips to workers. Effective safety programs are all-inclusive and involve workers at all levels from equipment operators to those working around them. It’s through communicating safety tips and reinforcing the importance of heavy equipment safety that situational awareness improves. Then, the risk of being a fatal four statistic dramatically drops.

Construction Equipment Safety Tips

Construction Equipment Safety Tips

Staying safe around heavy equipment is everyone’s business. So is sharing information on construction equipment safety tips. The best companies with the strongest safety records have a corporate culture where safety is the way they do business. They’ve built their safety record on a behavioral-based approach where they allow workers to commit to safety rather than being merely compliant to regulations.

Safety-minded cultures encourage all workers to identify barriers to safety and work as a team to remove them. They communicate all workplace hazards and educate workers on hazards around construction machinery as well. 

It’s an ongoing process to identify and control job site hazards. Often, situations change on a site as work progresses, and it’s important to communicate evolving conditions. However, there are many situations where workers face the same hazards from day to day. Here are some of the proven and reliable safety tips that benefit all those working around heavy equipment:

  • Stay out of the line-of-fireThis is a top-priority safety tip. The line-of-fire refers to every place around a piece of heavy equipment where a worker can be caught in-between or hit by a mobile object. Enforcing the line-of-fire rule is a two-way street involving both operator and ground worker. There has to be effective communication about what the machinery operator plans to do and what’s expected of workers around them.
  • Make eye contact. Eye contact with a heavy equipment operator is critical for safety. By making eye contact, it’s assured that both the operator and surrounding workers are aware of each other. This prevents an operator from swinging a machine or material toward a stationary worker who might approach inside the line of fire.
  • Use effective communication signalsMany construction sites use radio communication between machine operators and support workers. Knowing what others are doing and communicating changes in operation are mandatory for safety, and there’s no better way than with a verbal exchange. However, radios aren’t infallible. Clearly displayed and understood hand signals are fail-safe communication devices.
  • Have spottersMany construction equipment operators like those on excavators, delivery trucks and cranes rely on spotters as their second pair of eyes. Every machine has its blind spots where the operator is visually impaired. Using a ground spotter is high-value insurance against accidentally moving the equipment or material into a potentially dangerous position.
  • Identify and mark a danger zone. Marking a danger zone effectively communicates hazards to anyone approaching construction equipment. The danger zone is anywhere that the line-of-fire starts and stops. It’s straightforward to mark the danger zone with barriers, fencing or caution tape. Simple signage that clearly states the safety boundaries also works.
  • Ensure situational awarenessThis safety tip can’t be over-emphasized. It’s vital for everyone on a site to be situationally aware of their surroundings. Two of the terrible offenders for causing injury are overhead and underground hazards. That can be power lines struck by booms or raised dump boxes. It can also be buried electrical or gas lines. Being aware of the situation saves lives.
  • Keep eyes and mind on taskBeing alert is absolutely required for safety. Workers who keep their eyes and mind on their task are far less likely to cause or be involved in an accident. Common contributors to inattentiveness are fatigue, complacency, frustration and rushing. Safety experts say that distractions like these can account for 95% of contributing factors in construction site accidents. Workers didn’t think about or see the hazards even though they knew they were present.
  • Identify entrances and exits of equipment zones. It’s wise to have a dedicated entrance and entry to equipment zones, and those zones should be a clear and safe path that avoids operator blind spots. It also needs to be free of slip, trip and fall obstacles. Those zones should be unmistakably marked and rigidly enforced.
  • Maintain three-point contact. Entry and exit zones also apply to getting on and off heavy equipment. The safety industry standard is called “three-point contact” where a worker always has three points of contact on an ingress/egress ladder or stairs. At any time, either both feet or both hands are contacting a step, rung or handrail. This ensures a good grip and stability.
  • Conduct regular equipment inspectionsEvery heavy equipment operator has a responsibility to inspect their machine on a regular basis. That should always be a pre-start walk around where obvious issues are discovered and rectified before they become dangerous problems. It’s also advisable for anyone working near equipment to watch out for issues with machines, such as loose attachments, wearing parts and foreign materials being lodged in components.
  • Perform routine maintenance. Well-maintained equipment is safe equipment. Every machine should have maintenance performed on a regular, scheduled basis. That might be hourly interventions, seasonal adjustments or mileage maintenance programs. Preventive maintenance is a key part of overall safety performance and should never be left until a machine fails and someone gets hurt.
  • Provide trainingMaking sure equipment operators are properly trained greatly reduces the chance of accidents and injuries. It’s important that operators be trained on the specific machine they’re running and that they know the equipment’s limitations. That way, there’s little chance of over-extending the capabilities and sending it into a roll-over or toppling into others.
  • Develop certification processesIt’s one thing to train a heavy equipment operator. It’s another issue to make sure they’ve retained the knowledge and are competent to operate. Certifying an operator ensures they can safely run their assigned machines. Certification also protects a company by showing operator training in the event of an incident and investigation.
  • Use equipment only for its intended purposeHeavy equipment should only be used for its intended purpose. Machines are designed for specific duties and not for unrelated work. For example, skid steer buckets aren’t made to carry passengers. Neither are excavators meant to be aerial manlifts. Always use the right machine for the proper job, and the chance of injuries greatly decrease.
  • Ensure familiarity with the operator manualMake sure everyone associated with a heavy equipment piece is familiar with the operator manual. Manufacturers go to a lot of effort to spell out safety procedures to help prevent accidents with their machinery. Manuals contain great safety information and tips. Spending a few minutes with the operator manual may teach you some surprising safety lessons.
  • Ensure personal protective equipment is usedEvery professional worksite across the nation has its personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. Some PPE is mandatory by legislation. Some are site or machinery specific. Immediate safety risks around heavy equipment are noise, dust and heat. Proper hearing, breathing and thermal protection go a long way to reducing personal health and safety issues.
  • Wear a seat beltWearing a seat belt doesn’t only apply to highway vehicles. Always wear the manufacturer installed seat belt or harness when operating equipment. Seat belts restrain an operator in the event of a rollover or side tipping. Being ejected by a machine and crushed on impact is entirely avoidable by simply wearing the seat belt.
  • De-energize energy sources when possibleEnergized sources present serious hazards to those working on or around heavy machines. It’s vitally important to de-energize energy sources before servicing or repairing them. Electrical energy, hydraulic pressure and trapped heat can instantly electrocute, blast or scald an exposed and unprotected worker. If it’s not possible to de-activate an energy source, then it’s mandatory to lock out the activation device and tag it to warn any other workers about the hazard.
  • Exercise caution and proper procedures when fuelingThere are extreme hazards when fueling a machine. That includes dangers to workers and the environment. Always fuel heavy equipment under controlled circumstances. That may be at a dedicated fueling station where ignition sources and spill containment controls are in place. Also, never use a device to block open a fuel delivery nozzle.
  • Ensure proper braking and blockingAlways secure a parked machine. Depending on the equipment type, that might be applying the parking brake on a scraper or grader, for example. It might be lowering a blade or bucket on a dozer or loader, or it could be chocking the wheels on a rubber-tired skid steer. Regardless of the machine, it’s crucial to make sure it never moves unless an operator intends it to.

Heavy Equipment Safety Tips for Specific Machinery

Heavy Equipment Safety Tips for Specific Machinery

There are dozens of different heavy machinery categories and hundreds of different equipment types. Most of the safety tips apply to all machine operations, but there are some tips more applicable to specific machines than others. Properly trained operators will be familiar with quirks surrounding exact equipment pieces. It’s handy for those not officially trained but still employed around construction equipment to know safety tips for specific machinery. Here are the most common construction machines and some more tips:

1. Excavators

Excavators are used across the entire construction industry. Most construction excavators are track-equipped, but some have rubber tires. Excavators come in a vast size range from mini-machines used in tight places up to huge machines capable of moving many yards of material per bucket. If operating or working around an excavator, remember to:

  • Be aware of the blind spot adjacent to the boom arm.
  • Lower the bucket when not in use and disengage the drive.
  • Avoid operating horizontally to side slopes.

Excavators are used across the entire construction industry

2. Skid Steer Loaders

Skid Steer Loaders are versatile and highly-maneuverable equipment that are indispensable for small and medium-sized material moving. Skid steers are fairly easy to operate and have a short learning curve. However, skid steer loaders are powerful machines that can cause serious injury if disrespected. For safety around skid steers, remember to:

  • Always wear the safety belt regardless of operating time and conditions.
  • Mount and dismount the machine using manufacturer-built grips and steps.
  • Be cautious about moving forward or backward with a highly lifted load.

3. Motor Graders

Motor Graders are common on construction sites, especially where road building and clearing operations exist. No machine can replace a grader for smoothing, beveling and angling finished grades. But, motor graders are hazardous if not handled correctly. A few tips specific to graders are:

  • Be aware of blade width relative to obstacles and obstructions.
  • Be familiar with steering frame lock-link settings and wheel lean lock bolts.
  • Know that overheated grader tires are prone to violent explosions.

Motor Graders are common on construction sites, especially where road building and clearing operations exist.

4. Bulldozers

Bulldozers are powerful earthmovers and highly useful for pushing massive material amounts around worksites. Like all heavy equipment, bulldozers have their peculiarities. Bulldozer safety tips include:

  • Always work up and down on slopes, avoiding cross slope operation.
  • Keep the blade at least 15 inches above ground level when traveling.
  • Be cautious when working in knock-down tree areas to avoid spearing.

5. Compactors

Compactors come in many configurations.

Compactors come in many configurations. They include regular soil compactors, pneumatic rollers, tandem vibratory rollers and landfill compactors. Nothing packs material for foundation and roadbed building like a mechanized compactor. If working with or around compactors, remember to:

  • Always walk around the machine before use to look for existing damage, leaks and looseness.
  • Use a spotter when compacting in congested areas where sight is impaired.
  • Exit a compactor using proper handholds and never jump from the ladder.

Be Safe With Holt of California

Holt of California is one of an elite group of Cat® Equipment dealers. We feature a wide range of new, used and rental construction equipment and have an extensive selection of Cat heavy equipment to serve every purpose.

Be Safe With Holt of California. Contact Us Online.

At Holt, we focus on safe equipment operation. Part of our customer service is a Safety Leadership Assessment where industry leaders rate on four key skills including trust, accountability, connectedness and credible consciousness. Caterpillar Equipment Training Solutions is another first-rate service we offer.

Feel free to browse our Holt construction equipment on our website. For excellence in heavy equipment and safe worksite operation, call Holt of California today at 800-452-5888. You can also reach us through our online contact form.