6 Must-Know Safety Tips for Heavy Equipment Operators

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Heavy equipment – whether it’s a log loader, a forklift, or a combine – is a necessary part of your business to maintain efficiency. Training your workforce to use this machinery properly goes beyond how to maneuver it through the worksite, warehouse, or field; Operators need to know how to be safe. From training programs to OSHA safety regulations, take a look at these six must-know safety tips for heavy equipment operators.

1. Establish hand signals – Most likely, the equipment operators aren’t the only ones in the field. With other team members on the ground while the heavy equipment is in operation, it’s important communication isn’t lost in the engine rumble. In the construction industry alone, 8.4% of all injuries were caused by “struck by object” accidents in 2014 according to OSHA.

2. Require Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Although it can sometimes be hot, a hassle, or even just plain uncomfortable, this safety equipment is a must on all worksites. They can help minimize the possibility of serious workplace injuries. Keep in mind, OSHA says that, “if PPE is to be used, a PPE program should be implemented. This program should address the hazards present; the selection, maintenance, and use of PPE; the training of employees; and monitoring of the program to ensure its ongoing effectiveness.”

3. Look to Manufacturers –Many heavy equipment manufacturers offer training and safety videos with the goal of educating owners and operators about the importance of safety while using heavy equipment. Take a look at these safety training programs from Doosan, John Deere, and Hyster to start.

4. Prevent Electrocution –Unfortunately, every week, approximately five workers suffer from electric shock injuries. Without proper protection from electric shock, you risk team injuries or fines to your business. Grant County Public Utility District in Beverly, Washington, for example, was fined $35,000 for five serious safety violations last October. These violations resulted in the hospitalization of six workers after an explosion at the Priest Rapids Dam.

5. Use Harnesses –In 2015, falls were the most cited worker injury. As a supervisor or business owner, you can help prevent falls with the right training and safety equipment. Depending on the type of height your team will be working with – trusses, roofs, etc. – there are different safety regulations and training programs to make sure your team is not only aware of their surroundings, but also protected from falls.

6. Don’t use damaged equipment –Just like they teach you in driver’s education, heavy equipment operators should complete a walk-around inspection before using any machinery. Performing the recommended and routine maintenance on your equipment will prevent many potential problems. The following should be inspected regularly:

  • Look for broken, missing, or damaged parts
  • Look for any missing safety or instructional decals
  • Check tires for wearing or over-inflation
  • Inspect wheels rims for damage and missing or loose wheel nuts
  • Inspect tracks for damaged parts
  • Check all fluid levels, including engine hydraulic oil and coolants
  • Look for evidence of leaks; have any leaks repaired and fill fluid to proper level
  • Remove any 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

Remember, the cost is more than financial. Workplace mishaps affect team morale, business productivity, the injured’s family, and ultimately the time required to train even temporary employees while the injured are out of work.

You have the ability to prevent incidents on your worksite, in your warehouse, or in your fields. Look to manufacturers for machine-specific safety programs and establish appropriate non-verbal communications for the loud on-site environments. With the right PPE, a proper training program, and some understanding of OSHA safety regulations, your team will be safer and your business will be more compliant to government regulations.

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