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Heavy Equipment Safety, Lessons Learned from Tragedy

It is worth reminding yourself every once in a while that what has been learned about heavy equipment safety has come from the painful consequences of other peoples’ mistakes. There was a time that construction was an extremely dangerous occupation. The dangers have not diminished; we have just developed better safety procedures to protect us from them. Heavy equipment safety is one area that has improved dramatically, but mistakes are still made and lessons are still being learned. Take the following example which is from a public safety report that was published on the University of Iowa Website:

In the bottom of an 8-foot hole was a concrete casing around an existing pipe that the men were trying to remove. An iron trench box, measuring approximately 20’ long, 8’ tall, and 8’ wide, was in the hole. The victim was standing in the trench box giving hand signals to the excavator operator above him. He was positioned between the excavator bucket and the inside wall of the trench box (see diagram). The men were trying to carefully remove the casing without damaging the pipe. In the process of prying off the casing, the bucket teeth slipped off the edge of the concrete, and the bucket and arm of the excavator snapped toward the victim, crushing him against the wall of the trench box, causing chest and abdominal injuries.

This accident resulted in the death of the victim, which is sad because it was avoidable. Neither the victim or the operator of the excavator was at fault. They were unaware of the dangers that were involved, as is so often the case. The fact is that many unskilled laborers have no training regarding heavy equipment safety.

Reading the report one is struck by the inherent dangers of the situation, but when you are on a job, you tend to be thinking about the job, you grow accustomed to the dangers and you take risks. Complacent is something that you never want to become. Be paranoid about heavy equipment safety and you will see far fewer accidents. In the case above, workers from the company did later succeed in removing the casing. They did so with jackhammers, which though less powerful and a lot slower would have been the better choice from the very beginning. Sure an excavator could have gotten the job done a lot faster, but the environment was not safe for an excavator, end of story. If there are unacceptable heavy equipment safety risks involved in an operation, you need to reevaluate your game plan.

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