Safely Performing Overlot Excavations and Earth Moving

Earthmoving is a dangerous profession. In 2017 alone there were 28 fatalities in the U.S. related to mass earthmoving and mining. Most serious incidents in our industry involve heavy equipment, trucks, and machinery. Experienced operators are just as likely to be killed as new hires because these hazards don’t discriminate based on experience— earthmoving and overlot grading doesn’t get safer with time. It can be more dangerous as workers gain experience if they become complacent. Lack of focus makes us more prone to short cuts or ignoring rules like not wearing seat belts, using cell phones while driving, jumping off machines to the ground, and performing poor daily inspections of trucks & equipment. We should always follow the rules to counter the influence of complacency. This is what is expected of professionals.

Safety Inspections & Checks: Over time, pre-operational checks can end up being performed in a perfunctory manner, sometimes they’re just “pencil whipped.” A majority of inspections result in ticked boxes only to confirm equipment is safe to use. Inspections and checks exist for those cases when something is out of order and catching it in time can prevent injury or incident. Make an effort to check brake systems, lights, fire extinguisher, seat belts and operational checks of cylinders and attachments. Know and understand the terms and names of the differing type of equipment specific to your machine.

Inspections include checking the worksite also. Make it a habit of getting out of trucks & machines to check the work area before starting a task. The sheer size of power equipment makes it impossible for workers to notice every single detail around them while working. Practice “See Something-Say Something” and “Speak Up-Listen Up” to alert others of dangers.

Traffic Rules: Speed limits and traffic rules that apply to sites, offices, yards, and parking areas are to be observed. There is no job so important that its completion overrides safety. Excessive speed on jobsites often results in employee injury and equipment damage.

Seat Belts: The use of seat belts is mandatory 100% of the time. No seatbelt then no ride. Check belts and seats every day for issues. Everyone should understand that improperly worn seat belts won’t provide the restraint necessary to protect them. Constant vigilance and positive reinforcement help develop the right attitude and build safe habits regarding seat belt use.

Ground Control Methods: Adequate berms should be provided on solid ground and maintained at an appropriate height. Add signage to direct traffic, warn of hazards, and remind drivers of safety rules. It’s important to remember that the berm’s solid base is just as crucial as its height. Sometimes the material is simply dumped over the edge of the work area until it is able to hold a berm of the proper height. But if a berm isn’t built properly it will collapse as soon as a tire hits it. Berms need to have the strength to direct the driver back on the road. Ensure that there are grades at the top of high walls that slope down and away from the edge. The same applies to the dump area, which should also be sloped so that trucks can dump without cross grade. Truck drivers are to always maintain the truck perpendicular to the edge when backing up at a dumpsite. Only dump parallel to power lines to avoid contact. Additionally, back in so there is a safe distance between trucks and back from the drop-off. Plan the work to avoid vertical cuts in excess of 3 feet & provide awarning when cut area are near roads.

Spills and Accidents: Pay attention and contribute to your team when emergency planning is discussed. Without your input we are all vulnerable to avoidable injuries and fatalities. Spill kits fire extinguishers and having a plan in place is critical when accidents occur and a crisis is occurring.

Speak Up-Listen Up: Encourage workers to look out for each other. Most people never think that an incident is going to happen to them but they understand that one might very well happen to others. Keeping an eye out for each other’s safety will help with worker morale and develop a stronger team spirit.

Summary: Identifying and controlling all hazards associated with earth moving is expected to be performed daily by everyone on site. We should never forget that no matter how safe a piece of equipment is, it can easily become dangerous when operated by someone who is complacent or feels under pressure to rush. Creating a safety culture and encouraging safe habits improves compliance and keeps people safer, which is priceless in hazardous industries such as earthmoving and overlot grading.

“During 2018, 22 persons were killed in excavation and grading operations in the US. All were avoidable and unnecessary.”

Noel Borck, Chairman, Laborers Health and Safety Fund of NA, Newsletter MAR 2019

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