Ask any heavy equipment operator what their top priorities are and the best will always include safety at or near the top of the list.
In construction, heavy equipment and machinery is a common cause of injury and even death. Of 4,674 private industry worker deaths in 2017, 20.7% occurred in construction, according to OSHA. The top four causes of death, also known as the "Fatal Four," are falls, struck by object, electrocutions and caught in or between.
Those categories are responsible for 971 total deaths in construction in 2017. Falls lead the pack with 381 caused deaths. The remaining three are all fairly close, with the caught in or between category being responsible for 50 deaths in that year.
It's that caught in or between category that includes any worker deaths caused by being caught in, compressed, crushed or struck by equipment.
OSHA estimates that by eliminating the Fatal Four cause of death categories, 582 American workers' lives would be saved every year.
So, as an owner and/or operator of heavy equipment, it's your responsibility to do your part to eliminate these risks by staying laser-focused on safety at the work site. Here is how you can help create a safer work environment for heavy equipment operators.
First things first: Always take care of yourself whenever you are operating heavy equipment or machinery.
Just like in cars, seat belts are a must. They can prevent serious injuries in case of collisions, crashes or worse. Consider rollovers, for instance. With a seat belt used correctly, an operator is safe from being tossed around or thrown out of a cabin in a rollover.
Operators must also be instructed to always wear the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) for the job. So, don't start up machinery without hard hats, eyewear, gloves and steel-toed work boots. Proper ear protection should be worn, too, so that hearing is protected.
Don't take any chances: Make sure your heavy equipment operators are trained on how to correctly operate their machinery. By teaching the right safety measures from the start, you are not only keeping the operator safe, but also anyone else who may be working on the same construction site.
The best training occurs in both the classroom and on the job site. It's one thing to take in a lot of information, but it's another to put it to work. Make sure your crew can do both when it comes to knowing and practicing safety standards.
If you are on the lookout for training courses that provide the best direction, then search for courses or programs that cover general safety, how to handle potential hazards, proper use of equipment safety features and how to safely move the equipment.
As with most careers, education and training in construction is not a one-time-only deal. Continue to emphasize the need for learning and updated training to ensure that your crew can remain safe while operating even the newest equipment.
Accidents at the construction work site are more common when it's a mess. Sure, many construction sites are going to be generally untidy - it's the nature of the work - but a clean construction site is a much safer construction site.
Remove construction debris like any scrap wood, metal and building materials that are not being stored safely and securely. Anyone walking on the job site will be able to move around without worrying about encountering a hazardous situation.
But your heavy equipment operators will especially be thankful. With a clean job site, the chances are lower that they encounter and have to attempt to avoid an object in their path - an accident hazard.
With such large equipment, operators must always be aware of any blindspots. Everyone else on the job site must be aware of these blind spots, too.
The best way to prevent accidents due to machinery blind spots is to have a spotter. The spotter can keep an eye on blind spots and help the equipment operator maneuver the machinery much more safely without putting themselves or others at risk.
Other employees on-site should be instructed to wear highly visible clothing when they are working in the same area as heavy machinery. For those crew members, it's important to stress that they try to make eye contact with operators if they are not sure the operator can see them.
Signs and posters are other good visual reminders to have on-site. These can serve as reminders to everyone about the risks they face by working in the area and what safety measures they should take to mitigate that risk. Have multiple signs and posters placed throughout the work site to keep this information top of mind for your workers and operators.
Equipment should also be kept clean and well-maintained. That means making sure regular maintenance schedules are adhered to and tracked. All issues - minor or serious - should be dealt with right away to increase safety.
The best way to discover those potential issues before they become safety hazards is to continually perform machinery inspections. These should include visual inspections that occur before and after operation of the equipment.
But more thorough inspections also need to be done on a regular basis, ideally at the end of the work day. Keep an eye on tires, fluid levels, filters, belts and signs of regular wear and tear or damage. Have an inspection list on hand for crew members who may need to be reminded of what to watch.
Equipment owners know the importance of taking care of their heavy equipment, especially its engines. Perhaps the best way to maintain heavy equipment diesel engine performance is to always operate the machinery with clean air filters.