Common Safety Mistakes When Using Earthmoving Equipment

Bulldozers, backhoes, graders, trenchers, compactors, excavators — these are the big boys on a construction site. They can turn almost any terrain, from prairie to rocky hillside, into smooth, level ground. But with giant machines come outsize hazards, and outsize responsibilities.    

One mistake operators sometimes make is failing to check the ground for stability before moving across it.  Soft ground can cause the machine to tip or even roll over. The same thing can happen if an operator misjudges the slope of a hill. At the very least the equipment can slide back down the hill, posing a danger to those below and the person in the cab. A worse outcome is flipping over backward on the way down.

Like their cousins the cranes and aerial lifts, these machines often come with booms, which means the operator could accidentally hit an overhead power line, risking electrocution. The rule of thumb is to keep equipment at least 10 feet away from live wires.

The most important thing an operator should watch out for, however, is people. Struck-by or backover injuries and deaths are not unheard-of on a large, busy project site, so a system of spotters — trained in hand signals and armed with electronic communication devices — can minimize the chances of someone being trapped in a blind spot.   

Failure to maintain the equipment can create a hazard all its own if one of these giants breaks down in the middle of operations.  Brakes, signals and other critical features should be inspected pre-shift

Finally, since tipovers do happen, operators should wear seat belts. The ones who refuse, thinking they can jump off and land on their feet like a cat if the machine tips, are kidding themselves.


Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.