Safe machine operation in your landscaping projects

Earthmoving machinery can make shorter work of landscaping jobs than digging by hand, but using machinery when there are also pedestrians and other workers around creates health and safety risks. 

When people are engrossed in their work, wearing hearing protection, carrying large objects, or fatigued, they are less likely to notice machines in their vicinity. Operators of machines also become engrossed in their work, have a higher level of background noise and experience blind spots caused by things like the rollover protective structure (ROPS) or the counterweight of the machine. 

Training for excavator and loader operators can bring awareness of these risks, but that doesn’t help those on foot. This is why site operators must make health and safety a priority, and ensure that everyone working on the site is visible and has had a safety briefing.

What Should be Included?

Visibility is paramount

In some countries, it is almost mandatory to wear a high level of personal protective equipment (PPE). At minimum, this would include a hi-vis vest or jacket, but could also include hi-vis hard hat and trousers. For work in gloomy conditions and at night, reflective strips on clothing are important.

Site safety briefings

Remind everyone on the site every morning briefing about the existing hazards and any new hazards. Include any hazards that will develop during the day, such as deliveries of product.

Site safety boards

At the entrance to the site, a site safety board should detail the known hazards, who to contact about them, and what to do in an emergency; it will have the nominated contacts such as the site supervisor.

Contractor reporting and briefing

Contractors and drivers arriving at the site must be briefed on the hazards before they are allowed on. This helps prevent issues with trucks reversing into active working zones, or cranes lifting items above where people are walking or working.

Members of the public should not be allowed on the site.

Exclusion zones must be enforced

Different machines have different exclusion zones. An exclusion zone is an area that a pedestrian must not enter while the machine is working. For an excavator, this will be the radius of the boom, for example. Machine operators must stop the machine if a pedestrian or other machine strays into its exclusion zone.

Operator walkthroughs

If items such as vehicles, plant and materials are being moved, the operator can do a walkthrough to identify any potential issues. They should be looking up for obstacles such as tree branches, awnings and overhead cables; looking out for fences, posts, stacks of materials, walls, etc.; and looking down for buried cables and pipes, potholes and soft soil, and items on the ground. 

Use a spotter

For difficult maneuvers, a spotter should be used. A spotter is a person who guides a machine or a crane delivery. The spotter will communicate with the operator using a set of hand signals which should be agreed on beforehand.

Take care in adverse weather conditions

During heavy rain, fog or strong winds, consider suspending operations if visibility is too poor, or if it becomes dangerous.

Only people with training are to use the machines

Each machine used on the site must only be operated by a person who is competent in its operation. This means that an operator has had an induction on the machine, and holds the appropriate qualification, or has had sufficient training and practical experience to be safe. New and inexperienced operators should not be given tasks which are beyond their skills.

Check contractor insurance policies

All contractors should have public liability and professional indemnity insurance just in case anything goes seriously wrong. Check that their policies are current and are for sufficient money to cover the level of risk. 

Use safe digging practices

There are many injuries caused when trenches and excavations collapse. Ensure that the correct methods are used when shoring or retaining soil to avoid it collapsing.

Excavator operators digging and hitting electrical wires, high pressure water and gas pipes, and fibre optic cables is a daily occurrence in just about any country. It’s best to have a detailed survey plan of underground services before you start digging.

Avoid the temptation to do jobs beyond your abilities

It’s best to leave tricky jobs to the professionals. They have the right equipment and experience to safely execute it. If you follow the above advice, your landscaping work site should remain accident-free, improving productivity and reducing the chance of costly delays or lawsuits.

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