Why Safety Matters
On September 27, a falling tree crashed through the cab of a 360 excavator, killing the 47-year-old operator inside. While falling debris poses a major hazard for excavator operators, it is only one of the risks that operators face daily.
If you work with a 360 excavator, recognizing hazards and how to prevent them will help keep you and others around you safe. A worker dies every 101 minutes from a work-related injury according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Learn the top six excavator hazards to look out for when hazard spotting in this excavator safety blog post.
Top 6 Hazards for Excavators
Struck by Bucket or Debris
Falling debris poses a significant risk to both the excavator operator and nearby pedestrians. Material from a load could dislodge and strike anyone too close to the machine. Likewise, the debris could strike an operator if they use an open cab excavator.
Besides falling debris, buckets can pose a serious threat to safety. An operator who is unaware of a nearby pedestrian could strike or crush the pedestrian when turning or lowering the bucket arm. An operator could also put themselves at risk by leaving an active machine with the bucket arm lowered.
Trenching Accidents and Cave-Ins
Trenching accidents occur when the ground cannot support the changes in pressure caused by excavation. The weight of the machine can cause loose dirt to shift, which in turn can tip the machine.
Other trenching accidents occur as a result of improper trenching techniques or inexperienced workers attempting complicated techniques. This can include attempting to straddle a trench or using the bucket arm to climb down the side of a trench.
In addition to trenching accidents, excavator use can lead to cave-ins, endangering the lives of workers near them. Without proper trenching protection, the dirt can shift and collapse onto an unsuspecting worker. Workers may be at risk if they enter a trench while excavation is still underway.
Machine rollovers can happen at any moment if the operator isn’t being safe. As mentioned before, rollovers can occur when the ground caves in and cannot support the machine. Other causes could include maneuvering the machine too quickly, driving on a too-steep slope, and moving the machine with improperly lowered attachments.
Not using proper safety equipment multiplies the deadliness of a rollover. The sudden movement of a rollover can eject an operator if they don’t use the safety belts or harnesses or can eject an operator if they leave the cab door open or if they don’t use the safety belts or harnesses. An operator could be putting themselves at further risk if they try to exit the machine mid-rollover.
Contact With Power Lines
While regulations dictate that machines must stay at least 20 feet away from nearby power lines, electrocution still kills many excavator operators. Generally, contact with power lines occurs when operators fail to check if they have enough overhead clearance.
A total of 411 people die from electrocutions annually, or 7% of workplace accident fatalities. When a worker strikes a power line, they might panic and let go of the controls for a moment. However, if they try to touch the controls again or exit the machine, they will get electrocuted. Besides the operator, any worker who tries to approach the electrified machine might get electrocuted as well.
Run Over by Machine
An operator might back up over a pedestrian they weren’t aware of, or they might run over a worker who had tripped in front of them. These accidents occur because of a lapse in attention for both the operator and the pedestrian.
Other accidents can occur when the machine moves unexpectedly. This can happen when the operator fails to engage a parking brake or if the machine slides on unsteady ground.
When operators fail to properly maintain their machines, they put themselves and those nearby at risk. Even a misplaced lock pin could make a heavy component come loose and crush someone. Besides misplaced components, unauthorized changes to the machine threaten its overall operational or structural integrity.
How To Operate Heavy Equipment
It is critical to understand how to maintain a safe work environment for yourself and those around you whenever you operate heavy equipment. Here are some excavator safety guidelines to keep in mind when using the machine.
Using the Equipment: Excavator Operating Safety Tips
- Passengers are not permitted in the bucket, cab, or anywhere else in the vehicle. Excavators have one seat, reserved for only the operator.
- Never try to operate the excavator unless you are fully seated.
- When operating on rough terrain or in congested areas, slow down the excavator.
- While moving, keep the bucket low to the ground. This will improve machine sight and stability.
- Choose a route that is as flat as possible when moving the excavator around the worksite. When turning, keep the machine as straight as possible and only make small, gradual changes in orientation.
- Travel up slopes vertically rather than horizontally.
- When moving up an incline, extend the boom and arm, with the bucket carried low and rolled out.
- The bucket bottom should be low and parallel to the ground when moving down an incline.
Mini Excavators Safety Tips
Mini excavators are versatile tools that can be used to dig trenches and holes, demolish small structures, perform landscaping work, fix sewer lines, and clear snow. They require careful operation to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, such as rollovers, cave-ins, electrocution, collisions with other machinery, and striking workers. Mini excavator safety guidelines to follow on the worksite include:
- Never operate a mini excavator or another piece of heavy machinery without the necessary training. Along with increasing the possibility of an accident, you’re also breaking OSHA regulations.
- Even if you’re an experienced mini excavator operator, no two are exactly the same. Before starting the engine, check the owner’s manual and make sure you understand what each control does.
- Verify where the joysticks, pedals, and levers that control the various machine functions are located. If you’re using attachments, make sure they’re properly installed and functioning before using them.
- Know the capacity of your machine’s receptacle and never exceed it. Overloading the bucket raises the risk of tipping and can damage the boom, arms, and hydraulic system.
- Put dirt under the tracks to keep the machine level while digging and depositing spoil heaps as far away from the work area if possible.
- When traveling over rough terrain or through congested work areas, be cautious and keep a slow speed.
- Always wear seat belts because they are essential for your safety and comfort as you drive the machine.
360 Excavator Training
Learning to recognize when a hazardous situation is one thing, knowing what to do to avert a disaster is another. Safety Provisions and Hard Hat Training offer a comprehensive 360 Excavator Safety Trainingas well as a new Mini Excavator Training. Our trainings cover basic excavator regulations, machine anatomy, and safe operations. Our training go in depth to address common hazards and how to prevent them.
Purchase any of our online, classroom kit, or train the trainer excavator courses from our 360 Excavator Training page.
Good luck and stay safe!