While it’s true that most heavy machinery and industrial equipment comes with safe operating modes — some even designed for rough terrain — that doesn’t negate the danger of working in extreme conditions. Depending on the project, the environment can pose its series of challenges, especially when the surrounding land is hazardous.
Therefore, it’s necessary to ensure equipment operators understand and know how to deal with varying conditions, beyond just how to use the equipment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about forklifts, telehandlers, cranes or any other industrial-grade machine, knowing how to handle them under extreme conditions is vital for productivity and safety.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, transportation incidents were responsible for 2,077 deaths in 2017. It’s a prescient issue, especially in the construction and development field.
In light of that, here are some actionable training tips that will aid in preparing your workforce for rough terrain.
1. Practice Makes Perfect
Find a suitable training area and make it a requirement that all equipment operators spend time driving or working in varying conditions. It shouldn’t just be new hires and relatively inexperienced drivers that train — it should be everyone. As the adage goes, practice makes perfect. When operators have direct experience working in shifty or rough terrain, they know what to expect when on a job.
It’s not difficult to create a training ground that incorporates several terrain types and conditions, either.
Dirt, mud, rock, boggy conditions and many others can be simulated in a small area. You can also make use of the weather, scheduling training sessions when it’s raining or foggy to help workers build their experience.
2. Require Performance and Safety Checks
Before operation, workers should always inspect the equipment for performance issues as well as relevant safety concerns. If a particular machine is malfunctioning, that may pose new risks to the operator and nearby workers.
Some machines include operational safety gear such as visors or splash guards, or malfunction-related triggers. These safety measures should always be in working order. When they’re not functioning properly, no one should use the machine. This may seem like an obvious tip, but many workers and managers will continue to use equipment just to cut down on operational delays or schedule issues. What they don’t realize is they’re creating an inordinate and unnecessary amount of risk in doing so.
3. Everyone Should Know Safety Standards
Every piece of equipment, from a forklift to a tractor, has a set of safety standards associated with it. Part of the training needed to use industrial machinery involves brushing up and memorizing these standards to ensure optimal safety for all involved. However, it should never be assumed that workers know their ins and outs. Training and leadership crews must invest time in measuring the level of familiarity all workers have. If they are found lacking, they must be put through their paces and given a proper education or study session on such content.
Standards familiarity is something that should be regularly assessed. It’s more of an ongoing or continuous involvement than a one-time deal. Workers should continue to learn and stay current on their standards knowledge.
4. Tracks vs. Wheels
Construction and industrial-grade equipment employ either wheel- or track-based movement systems. In some conditions, it doesn’t matter which form of mobility is used. Under these conditions, wheels and tracks are about equal in terms of usability and operation.
However, when you start moving into rough terrain or soft, slippier ground coverings, that’s when track-based mobility solutions are superior. This is because the track has much more traction due to its surface area, and this is good when you’re talking about bulky machinery or vehicles with heavy loads. It helps prevent the equipment from getting stuck or incurring damage.
From a safety standpoint, it’s important to understand which mobility type is best for the project’s terrain. It may be necessary to choose a piece of machinery with track-based mobility over wheels.
5. Know the Limits
With heavy machinery that’s used to lift, stow or transport goods and materials, there’s a weight limit to be mindful of. Most of this information is presented in something called a load chart, but it’s not always a simple limit to consider. For example, a 10,000-pound rated forklift cannot always carry the full load its been rated at. When the boom is extended, that machine cannot safely handle the full 10,000 pounds. If the operator were to push that limit, the consequences could be disastrous.
It’s incredibly important that equipment operators understand the limits of their machinery as well as the additional requirements for those ratings. If an extended crane can only handle half the weight of its full limit, the restriction must be adhered to.
6. Mind the Blind Spot
Like a regular vehicle, heavy machinery often has a blind spot, but it varies depending on the equipment. Some items — like telehandlers — have incredibly large blind spots that can be dangerous. That makes it easy for the handler to run over other on-site equipment, materials, nearby objects or even people. It’s important to understand the limits of the machinery in use and to adjust the mirrors and peripheral gear to minimize risk.
Follow These Tips for Optimal Safety
The key to maintaining higher safety levels and low accident rates is simply to brush up on many of the tips discussed here. It’s really about educating and preparing your workforce to deal with the varying conditions, particularly when it comes to operating heavy machinery in rough and extreme terrains. If the operators have enough practice, skill and know-how, they can avoid dangerous incidents.
Megan R. Nichols is a industrial writer and blogger. She regularly publishes in magazines like Manufacturing Global, EBN Online and Industry Week. She also updates her personal blog, Schooled By Science weekly with easy to understand manufacturing and technology articles. Keep up with Megan by subscribing to her blog or following her on Twitter.