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Safety Tips for Sweeping Professionals

Equipment Safety: A Top Ten List

Each year there are thousands of injuries and triple digit numbers of fatal accidents involving machine and equipment operations. Here's a 'top ten' list of items designed to minimize their occurrance.

John J. Meola, CSP, ARM, is Safety Manager for Transportation Infrastructure, Transfield Services Group. John may be reached by calling (804) 261-8036.

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Many equipment accidents involve just the operator. However, over half involve persons on the ground: spotters, co-workers, laborers, shovel hands, pedestrians and sidewalk superintendants who get too close. Because of the forces and physics involved, these are usually not just 'bandaid first aid' injuries. There is often an ambulance, and sometimes even worse, called to the job site.

Ask any backhoe operator about their biggest headache and they'll tell you without hesitation: People on the ground crowding the machine. People just love to stand too close and watch the equipment move. The same is true for sweepers. What sweeper operator hasn't had kids running alongside?

There is typically no need for them to be there; simply curiousity and habit. This behavior is deceptively complacent, insidious and needlessly dangerous. Why create an exposure to injury when none needs to exist? The equipment is too heavy and dangerous.

The information you will read in this article is suitable for a wide variety of heavy equipment, not just sweepers. No matter if all your employee drives is the company pickup truck, or operates is a backpack blower, they'll find information here that will be of value in keeping them safe and, at the same time, reducing your company's liability.

A review of OSHA and MSHA Fatality Alerts and Bulletins ( and ) reveals that the majority of these types of accidents are preventable. Safety awareness and caution when performing the most routine operation are characteristics of a good operator. If you take a few moments to read a few of the fatality reports at the above web sites, you will find operators with decades of experience to share.

Before taking a look at the Top Ten list, below, let me offer some reminders about Operator Training. This is usually a topic where the owner says "Oh, my guy has been running that machine for X amount of years, he knows all there is to know." While that may very well be the case, it does not fulfill your obligation under OSHA, MSHA or the rules of civil liability known as Tort Law. Operators must have identifiable and verifiable training on the machine or equipment they are operating.

I encourage you to take advantage of the training most equipment dealers provide as part of their customer service. There is typically a Student Workbook, a video and, usually, a quiz. There is also a practical section where the student will operate the machine to confirm understanding of key controls and functions. A Certificate of Completion will then be issued. The larger or more complex the machine, the more in-depth this training should be. Remember, how much did that rig cost? And you would think of skimp on the training? Better keep reading.

Here's My Top Ten List of When Accidents Occur -- And Ways to Prevent Them

Here's how most operators and persons on the ground are killed or injured, and how a lot of equipment is destroyed.

1. Getting on and off the machine - never jump!

This is the #1 cause of injury to equipment operators, fork lift drivers and truck drivers - any one of whom will readily share their 'learning episode'. Correct practice is to lower yourself down in a controlled manner.

  1. Use a three-point stance going and coming.
  2. Avoid carrying objects while climbing.
  3. Use large size hand and foot holds securely engage entire hand and foot, avoiding toe hold or finger hold grip.
  4. Check your gloves and boots. Clean the mud off before climbing. Use high grip gloves for secure hand hold.
  5. Use a step ladder for access when no hand or foot holds are provided.
  6. If the machine needs additional hand holds or foot steps installed do it!

Operators come in different sizes. Make it as easy and safe as possible to ascend/descend. Avoid having to stretch by putting the grab rails where they are easy to securely reach.

2. Loading and unloading of machine from lowboys and trailers

  1. Even on level ground there is a risk of machine roll-over. Make sure you are centered on the ramps and stay straight. Allow enough room to maneuver the trailer and machine- which is sometimes difficult on tightly compressed jobsites.
  2. Use a spotter for guidance. Make sure the machine clears the ramps before turning.
  3. Keep persons away from the sides of machine during loading unloading.
  4. Check the trailer deck, clearances and stability.
  5. Review your lock out-tag out plan to be sure the machine is at 'Zero Energy State' when stowed.
  6. Use proper tie down procedures and if using compression chain binders, CAUTION when opening the handle. Load may shift just enough to add tension to tiedown chain and the handle may spring open. Use safety tie wires or switch to ratchet binders

3. Persons on the ground MUST stay well away from machine operating area

  1. Review this important point at safety meetings. Foremen need to enforce this, not the operator!
  2. Use your horn to warn to stay back.
  3. STOP the machine if needed.
  4. ALWAYS check your back before backing.

4. Watch your swing radius

  1. Rope it off or otherwise protect
  2. No spectators. Use a spotter to keep all persons clear. Swing radius accidents are common and usually fatal
  3. How do you think all those scrape marks got on that counterweight?

5. Caution on slopes

  1. Know the limits of the machine. For example, never unload a sweeper hopper on slanted ground.
  2. Allow for surface conditions.
  3. Don't push it.
  4. You might make it up the slope with a load, but coming down is another story!

6. Overhead obstructions and underground utilities: electrical lines, water, sewer, gas, telecom, etc.

  1. Call Dig Safe or whichever agency has jurisdiction
  2. Use caution -- errors are common in marking UG lines
  3. Definitively mark or warn of overhead lines or low clearances
  4. Use sawhorses, signs, barrier tapes, etc. Take no chances
  5. Be prepared to hand dig when it's getting close

7. BACKING -- reverse motion on anything in this industry is fraught with peril

  1. Remember that backup alarms on sweepers and other loud construction machinery are basically cosmetic devices in terms of assuring a clear backside.
  2. Operators need to positively assure that no one or no thing is behind them. This is achieved by getting out and looking.
  3. Always check the machine perimeter before moving.
  4. When vision is impaired, have a spotter (in high visibility apparel) guide you.
  5. Use wide angle mirrors; the newer generation of machines are fitted with best viewable surface mirrors. Keep them clean and adjusted. Replace current mirrors if they don't do the job.
  6. Use rear-mounted cameras -- especially on sweepers and other traveling equipment.
  7. Use rear-mounted presence sensing alarms -- these are becoming more reliable as technology improves. The equipment industry recognizes the urgency of the problem and will find technical solution to address chronic people behavior problems.

8. Machine upset and failure to use seat belt

  1. A professional operator will not have to be reminded of this bed-rock rule.
  2. The list of excuses for failure to use seat belts or harness is amazingly long. Operators need to understand their machines stability characteristics on all surface types and conditions. If the equipment manufacturer or dealer offers an instructional video.
  3. Even with the cab door closed, wear the belt. It decreases how much you will bounce around in the cab during normal operations and may help you control the machine in a borderline upset situation.

9. Instability or loss of load

Moving dirt or bulk materials is fairly straightforward. It becomes more complex when you try to use the hoe as a crane or otherwise become creative in finding new applications. The best pipe layers in the world might only be fair when it comes to rigging. All rigging attachments for lifting must be engineered for safety, i.e.:

  • Oversize fittings
  • Positive locking attachments
  • Safety latches on all hooks
  • Correct lifting angles on chain or cable bridles
  • Nylon sling inspection
  • Abrasion and cut protection on sharp edges and masonry
  • Spreader beams used to provide correct lifting geometry

A lot of serious accidents have occurred when trying to use one machine to do multiple functions.

  1. Keep all persons well clear of a load being lifted or handled.
  2. Either get the guys out of the trench or send them to a safe distance when the pipe is being placed. Never lift a load over people. Trenches need shoring and a ladder at certain intervals. Check your OSHA manual. Trench work is subject to a lot of safety controls.
  3. Rough terrain forklifts, skid steers and similar multi-use machines are versatile, but are often pushed beyond their limits for expediency. Operators need to understand that there are limitations which must be observed and safety is primary.

10. Lock Out-Tag Out (LOTO), maintenance and unintended start up.

  1. All pinch points on the machine must be identified and protected (guarded) when possible. The minimum warning is a pictorial decal advising of the hazard
  2. If the dump body has a safety 'crutch', make sure it's functional and used. Most mechanics will tell you a horror story or two. This illustrates why OSHA made the LOTO rule. Any raised load (or object, such as the bucket or attachment) is subject to LOTO provisions
  3. Refueling, service persons and mechanics need to use positive means to assure their safety while servicing or working on the machine, such as:
    • Use of wheel chocks
    • Steering wheel covers with LOTO WARNING imprint
    • LOTO locks, tags and hardware configured to the machine
    • Review manufacturer's directions for safety in all cases. Just because this is the fifth generation of machine you bought from the same manufacturer, no one told him. There are illustrations and directions in all manuals to point out safety features, do's and don'ts, good practices/bad practices, efficiency measures, etc.

The equipment and machinery produced today are the safest and most reliable ever made. However, to both get the most out of the machine and also assure your employees' safety, it's not enough to just have a comprehensive safety program in place on all jobs and for all job functions. Further, you must keep it relevant, timely, frequently referenced and backed up by top management. Keep your operators and ground crews informed of the hazards they face (i.e., by reading the machine manual), keep them motivated and aware and have management recognition of their accident-free achievements.

John J. Meola, CSP, ARM, has been a practicing safety consultant with a variety of national and international firms. He uses both construction industry and risk management experience to teach and train. His email address

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