Heavy Equipment Operation

Operating heavy equipment can be a stressful job, even for seasoned operators. Accidents can happen, but they are preventable. Equipment can be operated safely to reduce risk.

Employers should host regular safety meetings, ensure procedures are up-to-date, and train workers. Operators should never put themselves in a situation they don’t feel comfortable. These along with the general guidelines below will keep incidents down and translate into a positive working environment.

Blind Spots

  • Heavy equipment operators need to be 100% sure that no one is behind them or in their blind spots when moving. This may involve getting out of the machine and checking.
  • Have a spotter stand in a safe, visible position for guidance if visibility is limited.
  • Inform those working around you for the day of your blind spots and require them to make eye contact with you before coming in the equipment’s vicinity.
  • High-visibility vests are mandatory on all sites.


  • Always be in constant communication with the people working around you.
  • If you will be using a hand signal person, he or she must be properly trained.
  • The signal person must know and understand the type of signals used, be competent in the application of the type of signals used. The person must have a basic understanding of the equipment’s operation and limitations.
  • Communication with operators should be touched upon at every safety meeting and reinforced by the foreman on site.

Overhead / Under-Head Hazards

  • Before work starts on any job site, all overhead obstructions such as power lines and low clearance should be identified and flagged.
  • Call 811 to be sure underground utilities such as water, sewer, gas, and electrical, are located by the appropriate department and marked with color-coded paint and flags.
  • Use caution when getting close to the underground utility. Consider hand digging to uncover.
  • Be sure to set up barriers and fencing, when holes are present that workers or the public can fall into.

Lock-out / Tag-out

  • In accordance with OSHA, employers must  have procedures in place to ensure that before any employee performs servicing or maintenance on a machine where unexpected start-up or release of stored energy could occur and cause injury, the machine or energy source must be rendered inoperative.
  • Workers must be trained on these procedures and use them when performing such tasks.
  • Picture warnings, locks, and tags are to be used to prevent incidents.
  • Workers should also consider hazards such as pinch points, attachments, and raised loads. Use caution.

Load Limits

  • Be aware of the load limits of varying equipment when operating different machines throughout the day. Depending on the equipment set-up and size, the load limits can change drastically.
  • When lifting objects with a machine, make sure loads are secure with the proper rigging attachments, and always inspect to ensure they are in good working condition.
  • As with most equipment operation, confirm all workers are at a safe distance when lifting and moving loads.

Pre-Work Preparation

  • Equipment should be inspected at least once daily before operating. This involves walking around with a pre-determined checklist of components to check for good working order. Hydraulic hoses, undercarriage, oil levels, stress points, etc., are all areas that need to be inspected and reported to the maintenance/safety department before machine start-up.
  • Complete hazard assessment (JSA) to identify all potential hazards and the necessary controls to reduce risk.
  • Implement controls before beginning work.

Additional Safe Work Practices:

  • Always wear a seatbelt.
  • Maintain 3 points of contact when mounting and dismounting the equipment.
  • Use a spotter if there are overhead power lines, underground utilities, tight working conditions, or low visibility.
  • Be sure to unload and load on level ground.
  • When unloading or loading, ensure people are clear of the area.
  • Be aware of suspended loads, counter weights, and pinch points.
  • Ensure there is room for the swing radius and bucket operation.
  • Appropriate PPE must be worn as required for the task being performed.
  • Never allow personnel under the bucket while it is being raised or lowered.
  • Never work or walk under a load or between the load and the machine load.
  • Stay calm and alert throughout the day.

Heavy equipment operation can be stressful and hazardous. However, by following the guidelines and requirements above, the risk can be reduced. Take the necessary precautions and stay safe. If you would like more information on regulatory requirements or trainings, contact us today.

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