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Heavy Equipment Safety


In the 1992-1998 National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) report, “Building Safety Highway Work Zones,” 110 fatalities were reported involving equipment operators. NIOSH found that over half of those fatalities were caused by heavy equipment (53%). According to the same NIOSH report, injuries to operators of heavy equipment result from overturning, collision, or becoming caught in running equipment.

Types of Heavy Equipment

There are several pieces of machinery classified as heavy equipment. Examples of heavy equipment are:

  • Dozers
  • Loaders
  • Graders
  • Excavators
  • Scrapers
  • Backhoes
  • Cranes-Draglines
  • Forklifts-Manlifts
  • Compactors/Rollers
  • Cable Plows
  • American Augers
  • Mixers
  • Heavy Haul Trucks

OSHA/VOSH Standards for Heavy Equipment

There are no generalized standards for Heavy Equipment Operators. Click here for a listing of some specific OSHA/VOSH Standards that may apply to operations involving heavy equipment.

Operator Training

Protecting heavy equipment operators begins with proper training. Training should consist of “formal (classroom-type) instruction, demonstrations by the trainer, practical exercises performed by the trainee, and an evaluation of the operator’s performance in the workplace.”1

A frequent category of injury associated with heavy equipment involves mounting and dismounting vehicles. The training provided should emphasize using the 3-point contact rule: Every operator mounting or dismounting a vehicle should maintain contact with the vehicle using two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand until safely in the cab or on the ground.

Safety Rules

The agency should also establish a set of safety rules and expectations for operators when operating heavy equipment. The following is a partial list of rules and safe work practices that should be observed by employees. The agency should add to this list to ensure that all aspects of safety are addressed for heavy equipment operators. Before operating:

  1. Provide operator manuals for equipment operators and vehicle maintenance employees to review
  2. Ensure that operators wear appropriate clothing and protective equipment (hearing protection, work gloves, sturdy work shirt and pants, safety footwear, reflective vests, hard hat, etc.)
  3. Establish hand signals (if ground workers are present)
  4. Conduct regular vehicle inspections (use a daily sign in/inspection sheet)
  5. Make sure equipment has a rollover protective structure (ROPS)
  6. Fill tank with fuel when the equipment is cool with the engine off (no smoking)
  7. Inspect steps, handrails, pedals, grab irons, and cab floor for debris or defects

During operation:

  1. Always wear seatbelts
  2. Check controls for proper operation (including backup alarms)
  3. Check the work area for obstacles, holes, overhead utility lines, etc.
  4. Have the utility service provider identify underground cables and supply lines before digging
  5. When working on slopes, operate up and down the face of the slope instead of across the face
  6. Never jump off of or onto the equipment (use 3-point contact rule)
  7. Never exit a running vehicle (turn the vehicle off if the operator must leave the cab)

Exiting the vehicle:

  1. Park on level ground
  2. Relieve pressure from all hydraulic controls
  3. Wait for all motions to stop, then safely dismount the vehicle using 3-point contact rule
  4. Remove the key from unattended vehicles

Working with heavy equipment is no easy task. Whether the operator is a 10-year veteran or a beginner, safety is STILL a very important issue. Every operator should receive sufficient and appropriate training, with instruction for safe vehicle operation. Safety should be practiced and enforced each and every time the equipment is used.

1NIOSH Report, Building Safety Highway Work Zones: Measures to Prevent Worker Injuries from Vehicles and Equipment. Retrieved September 7, 2005 from


Electronic Library of Construction Occupational Safety and Health (eLCOSH). Motor Vehicles/Heavy Equipment. Retrieved September 6, 2005 from

Hampton, Tudor (August 4, 2003). “Public and Private Training Yields Fewer Mistakes Behind the Wheel” Engineering News-Record. Retrieved September 27, 2005, from

OSHA/VOSH Regulations Referencing Heavy Equipment


29 CFR 1910 – Subpart F: Powered Platforms, Manlifts, and Vehicle-Mounted Work Platforms 1910.66 – Powered platforms for building maintenance 1910.67 – Vehicle-mounted elevating and rotating work platforms 1910.68 – Manlifts 29 CFR 1910.178 – Powered industrial trucks 29 CFR 1910.179 – Overhead gantry cranes 29 CFR 1910.180 – Crawler locomotive and truck cranes 29 CFR 1910.181 – Derricks 29 CFR 1910.266 – Logging operations


29 CFR 1926.550 – Cranes and derricks 29 CFR 1926 – Subpart O: Motor Vehicles, Mechanized Equipment, and Marine Operations 1926.600 – Equipment 1926.601 – Motor vehicles 1926.602 – Material-handling equipment 1926.603 – Pile driving equipment 1926.604 – Site clearing 1926.605 – Marine operations and equipment 29 CFR 1926.651(d), Specific Excavation Requirements 29 CFR 1926 – Subpart W: Rollover Protective Structures: Overhead Protection 1926.1000 – Rollover protective structures (ROPS) for material handling equipment 1926.1001 – Minimum performance criteria for rollover protective structures for designated scrapers, loaders, dozers, graders and crawler tractors 1926.1002 – Protective frames (roll-over protective structures, known as ROPS) for wheel-type agricultural and industrial tractors used in construction 1926.1003 – Overhead protection for operators of agricultural and industrial tractors

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