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Winter is a testing time for many heavy equipment operators. It’s hard enough trying to work through frozen ground; operators often having to turn to specialized attachments such as rippers. The presence of snow and ice also makes the ground quite slippery and this can be of real concern when it comes to heavy equipment safety.
Here’s a fact that many people don’t realize – snow, especially compacted snow, is actually a lot heavier than dirt, even waterlogged dirt. This extra weight needs to be taken into account when working in these conditions – a loader may easily handle a bucket of dirt, but may struggle with a bucket of compacted snow (depending on the size and power of the loader of course). While working in freezing conditions is hard, that is just one of the difficulties operators encounter.
Most modern heavy equipment includes climate controlled operator cabs. This means an operator can work in conditions that are quite comfortable, temperature-wise. This can cause its own problems since an operator will find it difficult to relate to the cold external conditions – and cold does affect machinery.
For heavy equipment operators, special attention has to be paid to their equipment before they start work. Extreme overnight conditions can wreak havoc on their equipment, freezing pipelines, especially hydraulic lines, and, in some cases, creating problems with metal stress. Bulldozer and grader blades can often develop hairline cracks while excavator and backhoe operators often find that teeth on their excavating buckets are damaged.
Heavy equipment safety is an important issue in winter. Pre-start-up checks need to be thorough, and maintenance issues need to be dealt with immediately. Ideally, heavy equipment would be stored in a covered and heated environment each night in winter – that’s not practical in today’s world, so operators need to be particularly vigilant. While heavy equipment training can prepare future operators for these conditions, it takes hands on experience to really understand how trying winter can be to both man and beast.