10 Best Practices To Improve Safety Around Heavy Machinery

By David Macfarlan - June 30, 2020

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Most people working around and with heavy machinery and equipment — construction, mining, agribusiness, etc. — already have a healthy respect for the multi-ton gear, but accidents still occur. With injuries and fatalities actually on the rise in some places, it’s never too early to work on improving safety for operators and those working around heavy machinery. While the list could easily top twenty, here are ten best practices everyone on a job site with heavy machinery should practice and follow to a T.

Be Aware Of — And Avoid — Blind Spots

Every HME operator from Calgary to Queensland knows to watch out for blind spots, but is every operator in your fleet always doing what it takes to fix or overcome them? Not being able to visually see 360-degrees is the norm with most pieces of heavy equipment, even with mirrors and new tech providing greater visibility. Train your operators to take the time to physically exit machines before backing up to ensure no one is behind them or to ask a spotter to act as their eyes.

Especially when time is tight or a job is behind schedule, it’s important not to cut corners on this one. Double-down on your safety commitment. Tell supervisors to deliver a daily reminder that safety takes precedence over schedule, and that under no circumstances is anyone to put gear into reverse without being 100 percent certain the way is clear of people, gear and debris.

Ensure Proper Training

Every operator should be up-to-date on the correct procedures to safely operate the specific pieces of gear they’ll be handling. Training videos, in-the-field instruction and digital or aper manuals should all be part of the training equation to ensure different learning styles are accounted for. In addition to the safe operation of specific gear, make sure everyone in your fleet also knows how to safely mount and dismount their equipment, as well as identify potential hazards specific to their machine. Rather than a one-time event, training should be ongoing with refresher courses offered yearly, or, in the case of an operator who is seen handling equipment improperly — as often as is needed.

Under no circumstances should an operator who is untrained ever be allowed to operate heavy machinery.

Follow The Three-Point Rule

Overly casual mounting and dismounting can lead to injuries or death and is 100 percent preventable. Operators should never jump onto or off of heavy equipment and machinery. They should also never mount or dismount a piece of equipment that is On. Additionally, operators should never carry anything in their hands when getting on or off — smartphones, two-way radios and the like should be safely pocketed.

The best way to get on and off machines? The three-point rule. By always maintaining three points of contact — either both hands and one foot, or both feet and one hand — operators greatly increase their chances of getting on and off equipment safely.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

One of the easiest ways to improve safety around heavy equipment and machinery is for operators, supervisors and other crew members to maintain near constant communication. Standardized hand signals should be learned and utilized, and two-way radios employed when necessary. Backup alarms, headlights and other safety features should also be fully functioning on every piece of gear. The more everyone on your team is connected and communicating, the more likely it is that everyone will also stay safe.

Always Wear Seat Belts

Rollovers are one of the most common accidents with heavy machinery and equipment. While proper handling is essential to reduce rollovers, seat belts will reduce injuries in the event that they happen. Being inside a machine that’s about to tip over or is tipping over can create a situation where the driver instinctively wants to jump out. Doing so, however, is incredibly dangerous. By wearing a seat belt, operators will be kept snug and safe in the cab, reducing injury and protecting them from their own worst/best inclinations.

Daily Checklist

Similar to following a preventive maintenance schedule, enacting and enforcing a daily checklist can catch potential equipment malfunctions and prevent mishaps. Besides ensuring that each piece of equipment in your fleet gets expert eyes on it before the start of a workday, a daily checklist takes away any reliance on individual memory or will. Many operators, even without being required to do so, conduct daily walk arounds and fluid checks to guard against potential problems. With a required daily checklist — especially a digital form that must be submitted before starting up their machine — that morning walk around won’t miss anything. Why? Because it doesn’t require your operators to remember what needs checking, and if it's required, it also doesn’t need them to be in the mood for it to get done.

Know — And Follow — Load Limits

This one would be obvious if it weren’t so routinely ignored. Yes, it’s possible to overload a piece of gear and have it perform fine without anyone getting hurt, but load limits exist for good reason. From rigid frame trucks to cranes, exceedingly smart people have thoroughly calculated machine performance as it relates to load, and any setting aside of that wisdom invites trouble. In addition to creating an unsafe work environment in the moment of overloading, carrying too much weight also increases wear and tear on equipment, hastening decline and negatively impacting performance across future use. That overweight load might not cause any harm today, but it could lead to an unsafe situation tomorrow.

Encourage Operators To Practice Self-Awareness

Every operator is capable of performing well under different levels of psychological and physical stress. Unfortunately, there are no instruments to read on people that lets you know Bob needs a break but Sharon is doing just fine. Encourage your operators, then, to practice self-awareness. Slips of attention and lower back pain from sitting in the cab too long can both lead to unsafe environments. Make sure workers take every minute of allotted breaks, and reassure them that if they don’t feel great, it’s alright to pull up and rest or ask to be relieved.

Beware The Backhoe

Two-thirds of all heavy machinery and equipment-related deaths happen among operators and workers in the construction industry. Of those deaths, half involve backhoes and trucks. Because of rollovers and poor visibility, backhoes are as much a danger to those working around them as those driving them. Make sure operators understand that backhoes pose a greater danger than other pieces of equipment. Being armed with this knowledge may enable them to pay greater attention and take even greater care.

Follow A Preventive Maintenance Schedule — For Every Piece Of Gear

Improperly maintained equipment becomes dangerous equipment, plain and simple. From handrails and steps being improperly secured to malfunctioning electronics, a multi-ton machine that’s not performing at its best is a machine that can hurt someone. Put a rigorous preventive maintenance schedule in place for every piece of gear in your fleet, and, so long as you follow it, safety concerns — and costly violations — will decrease.

Maintaining and increasing safety around heavy equipment is full-time job that will never end, but if you follow these and other best practices, you’ll at least have a safe and healthy workforce — and gear — to show for the effort.


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