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|Backhoe Safety |
After this safety training session, employees will:
• Understand hazards posed by operation of backhoes.
• Be familiar with safety procedures for backhoe operators and co-workers.
Suggested Materials to Have on Hand
• Policies and procedures for backhoe operations
• Inspection checklists or protocols
• Instruction manuals for machines to be operated
• Backhoe machines—if training is given where machines are located
• Handout #1: Daily Inspection Checklist for Backhoe Operators
• OSHA's regulation at 29 CFR 1926.602 covers material handling equipment.
• OSHA's regulation at 29 CFR 1926 Subpart P covers excavations.
In addition, OSHA may apply its “General Duty” clause to any worksite activity including operation of backhoes. The General Duty clause, Section 5(a)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, requires an employer to furnish to its employees “employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees ….”
It is important to note that the General Duty clause also requires employees to comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations and orders issued pursuant to the OSH Act that are applicable to their own actions and conduct.
Backhoes are chosen for many construction jobs because they are maneuverable and very versatile. Because of the machines' versatility, however, the operators are exposed to many types of hazards. These could range from overhead wires to pinchpoints to rollovers to collapsing trenches. In addition, backhoes pose threats to other workers. All operators need to be carefully trained about these hazards and how to avoid them.
Before You Operate Your Backhoe
There are a number of checks and inspections that operators must make before operating their backhoes.
First, if you are operating an unfamiliar piece of equipment, always review the operator’s manual before you operate it. Different models may appear to be similar but may have different features, different controls, varying behaviors, and responses to controls.
In addition, familiarize yourself with protective devices like seat belts and warning lights or audible backup signals.
Finally, identify and wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety shoes, hard hat, heavy gloves, and reflective clothing. You may also need a respirator in dusty areas and hearing protection at noisy construction sites.
Inspect your machine before each use and know its capacity.
• Check fluid levels, such as fuel, water, oil, transmission, and battery.
• Check the hydraulic system for leaks.
• Check safety systems such as backup warning signals.
• Check the seat belt and rollover protective structure (ROPS).
• Make sure the tires are at proper pressure and look for any noticeable cuts or damage.
• Inspect quick-disconnect buckets or other attachments to be sure they are securely latched before beginning work. Check frequently during operations as well.
Finally, before starting operations, check out the worksite. And remember that— especially on active construction sites—things can change, literally, overnight. What was solid ground may now be a deep, water-filled hole; what was a clear pathway may now be blocked. Here are key items to check:
• Be sure that local utilities and property owners have been contacted to obtain the location of overhead and underground utility lines.
• Try to avoid working around overhead power lines, but if it is necessary, plan your operations to make sure that adequate clearance is maintained.
• Observe the worksite carefully to notice uneven terrain, obstacles, and steep slopes or drop offs. Avoid grades steeper than those specified by the manufacturer for operation of backhoes.
• Always maintain an adequate distance from excavations such as trenches—the ground may not be stable in such areas.
• Be sure workers are not allowed within the hydraulic excavator swing area and that proper communication signals and warning signs are agreed on between the operator and other workers in the area.
When Operating—General Tips
Safety is just as important when you begin operating your machine. Preventing accidents should always be the top priority. Work so that you avoid injuring yourself, fellow workers, your equipment, and the jobsite. Here are some important tips:
• Use the handholds, steps, or ladder when boarding the machine—never use controls as handholds.
• Make sure the controls are in neutral or park before starting the machine, and never start the machine unless you are in the driver’s seat.
• Before moving, check to be sure your brakes and loader bucket controls are operating properly.
• Always lower the boom so the bucket is on the ground and turn off the machine before leaving the driver’s seat.
• When transporting the backhoe, be sure the boom is blocked to avoid a fall—never rely on hydraulics to hold the boom.
• Never allow riders on a backhoe.
When Operating—Specific Tasks
Keep the bucket as low as possible to ensure stability. Doing so will also increase your visibility and make you more aware of other persons close to your work area.
• Raise the bucket only when necessary to dump a load.
• When loading a dump truck, make sure the driver is out of the cab and away from the process—don’t swing the load over the cab.
• If you are excavating on a hill, dump the load uphill to maintain stability—dumping downhill may cause the machine to tip.
• When excavating, never undercut the area beneath the backhoe stabilizers. If there is a chance that the ground is not stable, use a platform under the rear heels and stabilizers to prevent cave-ins.
• If you are hoisting something with the backhoe, keep the weight over the back—never the side—to prevent tipping.
• Remember that making sharp turns, especially on a slope, can also cause a turnover.
• Latch quick-disconnect buckets securely before work begins and inspect frequently. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using positive locks on quick-disconnect equipment.
Again, be wary of requests for actions that exceed the specs of the machine, especially lifting and moving.
Follow Safety Precautions When Refueling
• Naturally, never smoke when refueling or handling fuel.
• Turn the engine off as well as nearby electrical or spark-producing motors.
• Ground the fuel nozzle or funnel against the filler neck to avoid static electricity.
• Check the fire extinguisher that is located in the cab.
—Be sure it is charged and ready for emergencies.
Operating the Equipment on a Road or Highway
• Be sure your slow moving sign is in place and any warning lights are working properly.
• Always use hand or turn signals to alert other drivers to your intentions.
• Follow the rules of the road.
• If traffic gets backed up behind you, pull over and let them pass.
—Consider yourself a guest on the highway.
Co-Worker Safety and Training
Like the machine operators, anyone who will be working in the vicinity of the equipment should also receive appropriate training. Consider the following guidelines:
• Anyone working at the site should be trained to recognize and avoid unsafe conditions and to follow required safe work practices that apply.
• Before each work shift begins, operators and other workers should review and confirm communication signals. When necessary use spotters or signal persons to ensure safety.
• Workers should be aware of swing areas and blind spots and these danger areas should be marked with rope, tape, or other barriers before the backhoe begins operation.
• Workers should never stand under suspended loads or backhoe components such as the boom, arm, or bucket.
• Workers attaching loads for hoisting should wait until the operator has lowered the bucket as close to the ground as possible.
• Workers should not approach the hydraulic excavator or backhoe on foot until they signal the operator to shut down the machine and receive acknowledgment from the operator.
• Workers should never ride in or work from excavator or backhoe loader buckets.
• Appropriate personal protective equipment should be available to workers, and supervisors should insist that workers use and maintain it.
Backhoe equipment operators should be fully trained before attempting to operate equipment.
Training should include:
• Equipment specifications and manufacturer’s recommendations
• How to perform daily checks and inspections
• Fueling and fluid replenishment
• Machine controls and operation
• Installation operation and maintenance of all equipment attachments according to the manufacturer’s specifications
• Seat belt and other protective devices
• Mounting and dismounting, starting and stopping
Speed Isn't the Key to Safe and Efficient Operation
Finally, when operating backhoes, remember that fastest is usually the slowest way to go. The most effective operators are usually the smoothest, not the fastest. Fast operators are the ones who cut through underground lines and pipes, knock dirt back into the trench, damage other equipment, and injure themselves and others.
Backhoes are likely the most versatile piece of machinery on the construction site. Digging, loading, hoisting—you name it—the backhoe operator knows how to do it. But so many capabilities also mean many possibilities for accidents, and too many people thinking you can do things you shouldn't. However, following the safe practices suggested here will avoid those accidents, preventing injury to you and your co-workers, and increasing productivity.
Suggested Discussion Questions
1. What types of assignments are likely to encourage you to push your backhoe beyond its rated capacity?
2. What should you do if you are asked to do something that you don't think would be safe for your backhoe?
3. Have you experienced an incident that might serve as a good lesson in backhoe safety?
The Internet address of OSHA's trenching and excavation page is
For trenching and excavation information:
To view the NIOSH report on preventing backhoe injuries, go to:
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