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Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

Equipment Operator Safety

It is the operator’s responsibility to know how to operate heavy equipment safely. Operators without proper license to operate specific equipment must not be allowed to. Operators must know the proper use and limitations of specific equipment. If the equipment is not designed for a specific task, it should not be used for that job. Operators should know the safe operating practices of specific equipment available in the manufacturer’s instructions. If manufacturer’s instructions are not available, the manufacturer should be contacted to get it.

Safety features such as kill switches, guards, shields, reverse alarms, roll bars, or control bars must not be modified or removed. The transmission shafts should be covered. For details, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions for specific equipment.

If an operator is sick, fatigued, or taking medication that may affect his/her ability to safely operate heavy equipment, he/she should notify the supervisor. Such situations can cause physical or mental impairment to operate heavy equipment.

Operators Proper Training


Only highly skilled operators who have demonstrated adequate knowledge, ability and skills to safely operate heavy equipment should be authorized for operation. In addition:

  • Only authorized persons should operate the heavy equipment (with appropriate training and/or licenses).
  • Operators should know and understand the limitations of the machinery.
  • They should follow safe operating procedures, utilize safety features, and heed the manufacturer’s warnings.

Operator Equipment Safety Checks

Operators should follow the procedures below before the start of each shift (a check list is recommended):

safety checks
  • Approach equipment, walk fully around it and look for hazards on or near equipment.
  • Inside the cab, remove trash, make sure cab windows are clean, adjust mirrors, check the fire extinguisher, turn on all exterior lights, and make sure seatbelt is ready to use.
  • Outside again, check lights, tires, suspension and steering system, exterior hoses and filters. Look for cracks in the metal structure, unguarded moving parts, or other unsafe conditions. Check engine compartment and belts. Make sure fluid levels are correct.
  • Inside again, check all gauges and warning lights before starting. Make sure parking brake is set and other manufacturer’s engine start-up guidelines are followed. Start engine; check gauges and warning lights again. Check engine sounds.
  • Before moving, warn people in the area. Test your equipment’s movements and make sure the backup alarms can be heard.
heavy equipment

Working Around Heavy Equipment

Safety is a collective effort. The on-foot workers working around the equipment should also be trained for safe working practices and avoiding potential hazards and resulting injuries. Several kinds of potentially hazardous interactions occur with the equipment in the work area.

Effective communication between operators and other workers is essential. The operators and the signal person should use a standardized set of hand signals. Operators should always know exactly where all on-foot workers are located, and the wearing of high visibility vests will help the operator to locate them quickly.

The equipment should have a back-up warning alarm that can be heard by all nearby workers. Two-way radios are also very useful communication tools.

General Safety Measures When Working Around Heavy Equipment


All workers should use the following safe work practices when working around heavy equipment.

  • Wear high visibility clothing.
  • Do not assume operators can see you.
  • Keep back up alarms working properly at all times.
  • Make sure heavy equipment is equipped with rollover protective measures (e.g., outriggers).
  • Use a seat belt and required PPE when operating your equipment (e.g., hard hats, gloves, steel toe shoes, reflective clothing, etc.).
  • Use appropriate hearing protection when working on or around loud equipment.
  • Do not wear loose fitting clothes that may get caught in moving parts.
  • Never jump onto or off the equipment.
  • Never operate any of the controls from any position except the operator’s seat.
  • Never permit anyone to ride on the equipment.
  • Never refuel when the engine is running.
  • DO NOT SMOKE when refueling.
Signal Persons/Spotters
Click to Enlarge

Signal Persons/Spotters

The use of signal persons or spotters is a proven method of protecting employees on foot behind heavy equipment and vehicles with an obstructed view, but spotters themselves can be at risk for injury or even death. Employers can implement the following actions to help keep spotters safe:

  • Spotters and drivers should agree on hand signals before backing up.
  • Spotters should always maintain visual contact with the driver while the vehicle is backing.
  • Drivers should stop backing immediately if they lose sight of the spotter.
  • Spotters should not have additional duties while they are acting as spotters.
  • Spotters should not use personal mobile phones, personal headphones, or other items which could pose a distraction during spotting activities.
  • Spotters should be provided with high-visibility clothing, especially during night operations.

Crane Operations Safety Measures

crane operations

Following safety precautions for cranes should be exercised in conjunction with the general safety precautions for heavy equipment.

  • Never hoist objects with unknown weights. It may be difficult to judge the load in some cases (e.g., an object in water). When hoisting a load from water below, the crane takes on the added load imposed by the displaced water as the load is hoisted out of the water.
  • When handling a heavy load, raise it a few inches to determine whether there is undue stress on any part of the sling and to ensure the load is balanced. If anything is wrong, lower the load at once and do not attempt to move it until the necessary adjustment or repair has been made.
  • Before hoisting a near-capacity load, make sure the hoisting line is vertical. Move the crane instead of lowering the boom, since swinging a capacity load increases the chance of tipping.
  • When lowering the boom under load, use extreme caution. Check the load chart with attention to radius changes and observe the radius indicator. These charts are posted in the operator’s cab. Never lower the hoisting line and the boom simultaneously. When lowering loads, use a low speed not to exceed the hoisting speed of the equipment for the same load. The ordinary hoisting speed of a 30-ton, motor-operated crane is about 18 feet per minute with a rated load. Stopping the load at such speeds in a short distance may double the stress on the slings and crane.
  • Be careful to guard workers, other equipment or objects against being hit from swinging loads. Do not swing loads over workers. If it is necessary to move loads over occupied areas, give adequate warning (by bell or siren) so workers can move into safe locations.
Here’s a short video that shows what can happen when a lift goes wrong.
(Click to play video)
  • Do not attempt dual lifts unless absolutely necessary and only with competent supervision throughout the operation. Dual lifts are extremely dangerous. Shifting of the load can cause overloading and failure of one crane. This throws the entire load onto the second crane causing it to fail. Before making a dual lift, carefully determine the position for the cranes and the location of the slings to balance the load properly.
  • After repair or alteration of a crane or derrick involving its hoisting capacity or stability, its safe working load should be determined by a competent person. Have this person issue a written statement specifying the safe working load.
  • Test the brakes at the beginning of each new shift, after a rainstorm, or at any other time when brake linings may have become wet. When hoisting a capacity load, check the brakes by stopping the hoist a few inches above the ground and holding it with the brake.
  • Equip all cranes with an appropriate fire extinguisher. Keep the extinguishers maintained and ready for use.

Safety Measures for Asphalt Paving Operations

asphalt paving

General prevention measures for heavy equipment are also applicable for paving and surface equipment. In addition, asphalt paving operations involve exposure to bituminous materials that pose several hazards to workers.

Asphalt is a blackish-brown solid, semi-solid or liquid depending on the formulation or mixture of asphalt being used. Asphalt fumes are produced during the manufacture and heating of asphalt, which is used for road building.

One of the most dangerous hazards is associated with the heating required to convert the solid or semisolid materials to a degree of fluidity, which will permit their application or mixing.

The following safety measures should be exercised during asphalt paving operations:

Check out this classic video: Caterpillar General Safety Video
(Click to play video)
  • Make sure fire-extinguishing equipment (foam type) is present at all times.
  • Ensure that an asphalt distributor or asphalt kettle are in a level position (before heating) and are located at a safe distance from buildings and other flammable materials.
  • Avoid exposure to fumes from hot bituminous material by staying on the windward side of the operation. Breathing asphalt fumes can irritate the nose, throat and lungs, which can cause coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath. It can also cause headache, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Contact can irritate and cause severe burns of the skin and may cause dermatitis and acne-like lesions.
  • Wear gloves and full body clothing to avoid prolonged skin contact or burns from hot bituminous material. Clothing should be closed at the neck; sleeves should be rolled down over the tops of gloves. Workers should wear cuffless trousers that extend well down over the top of safety shoes. Goggles should be worn to prevent eye burns from bubbling or splashing asphalt. In addition, workers should always wear a safety hard hat.
  • Wash thoroughly immediately after exposure to asphalt and at the end of the workshift.

Accident Summary


A contractor was operating a backhoe when an employee attempted to walk between the swinging superstructure of the backhoe and a concrete wall. As the employee approached from the operator's blind side, the superstructure hit the victim, crushing him against the wall. Employees had not been trained in safe work practices, and no barricades had been erected to prevent employee access to a hazardous area.



Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. When operating heavy equipment, operators and the signal person should use _____.

2. Which of the following is true regarding safe practices for spotters?

3. Which of the following is the correct procedure to get a crane's hoisting line vertical?

4. Which of the following must occur before performing a crane dual lift?

5. Which of the following is one of the most dangerous hazards in asphalt paving operations?

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.