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Work safer! Below you will read excavator operators information that has helped me to work safer and more efficient. The information is in no particular order, just as it comes to mind. If you have any other great tricks to share please contact me and I will get them on our site. We want to hear your stories about operating heavy equipment, share your story with others so they can work safer too.
•When you sit in the seat of an excavator, make yourself comfortable. For the long term, position the seat so you are sitting up straight, do not sit in a slouched position as it will harm your back. Position the arm rests so that your arms rest gently while you grip the joy sticks. Hold the joysticks firmly, not tight but firm. You have better control and you can actually feel the machine through the joysticks, you will know what I mean when you get some experience under your belt.
•I operate an excavator with the front window closed; however, some excavator operator’s do not like the front window closed when they operate. For me, the only time I think about opening the front window is when I am digging a deep trench. The bottom of a deep trench looks totally different when looking through the window, it has something to do with the glass and possibly shadows. It depends on what you’re doing but sometimes objects fly off the bucket and hit the front window, I rather the window get hit than me.
•Heavy equipment training schools teach you to wear a seat belt no matter what you operate. The only time I wear a seat belt is when I work on steep slopes, seat belts are actually quite comfortable once you’re used to them. If you wear a seat belt and God forbid you find yourself under water, get that seat belt unhooked before you go under and get yourself clear of the machine, if you have time, the top hatch might be the safest way out as you go up and away from the sinking excavator.
•When you’re operating an excavator always be aware of who is working around you and where they’re at. The main boom creates a blind spot on your right, so when you swing to the right make sure the area is clear.
• One thing a lot of new heavy equipment operators don’t realize is the power these machines have and it’s all in their hands. Learn to be as gentle as you can when operating an excavator, you will be asked to pick things up such as plastic pipe or wooden things without breaking them. You will be asked to push trucks out of the mud, don’t push against the tailgate as it will bend. Instead push against the load or the rugged lifting hook beside the tailgate latch.
• If you are asked to pull anything out of the mud with an excavator never use a chain or nylon strap. Instead, use heavy cable with good ends that are not frayed. Chains and nylon straps break under load and can kill a person if they’re hit. When a chain breaks under load they fly in all directions and usually into the front of whatever you’re pulling. Always tighten the cable up slowly to see if it will stay hooked and then gently apply more pressure until the stuck machine is free. You always pull with the stick boom and the cable is normally hooked to the back of the bucket. Never hook cables around sharp objects as it could cut the cable when you pull, instead use clevises or round shaped hooks.
• There is a lot more power in the tracks of an excavator than there is in the stick boom. If you’re going to pull with the tracks, make sure the stick cylinder is completely inside the barrel. When you pull with the tracks it applies a tremendous amount of pressure against the stick cylinder and can blow the seals in the cylinder. Pull with the stick cylinder first and once the stuck machine is moving then you can begin to travel backwards but slowly. Excavators are by far the best machine for pulling anything out of the mud, quite often the stuck machine has to be dug out to get a cable hooked.
• A lot of excavator operators level the ground with the bucket flat on the ground while swinging side to side. Everybody does it but you can do a lot of damage to the boom if the bucket hits something solid. All I can say is be careful because it will happen.
• Electrical lines are a major concern for excavator operators! Did you know electrical current can jump 12 feet? When it’s raining, electricity will follow moisture and steel is a prime conductor of electricity. Watch out for the lines!
• If you’re loading trucks and sitting up on a bank it is better to have both tracks facing the edge. If the ground under the excavator gives way, the excavator could upset on top of the truck. When you sit sideways to the edge there is a lot more pressure applied to the ground than if the tracks were facing the edge. I’m not saying you can’t sit sideways to a bank but just be aware that unstable ground will fall away.
• Loading trucks is best done when the excavator is sitting level. If the excavator is sitting on a slope, it has to swing uphill or downhill whichever way you’re swinging. If the front of the excavator is higher than the back and you swing toward the truck, the boom swings downhill. If you’re swinging downhill it is much harder to slow down to dump and you risk hitting the truck.
• When you’re loading trucks or working around other equipment have respect for the other operators. Don’t destroy someone Else’s equipment! If you’re loading big rocks into dump boxes, lower the rocks down and sit them in the box don’t drop them. If you don’t want anyone mad at you don’t damage their property.
• When you’re loading trucks or simply digging and swinging with a full bucket, material and rocks will fall off the bucket. After you load the bucket, give it a little shake to lose any loose material that could fall off and hit something or someone.
• Some truck drivers forget to hook their tailgates after they dump I always check the gate when the truck is backing in to me. To let the driver know his gate isn’t hooked I put the bucket of the excavator against the gate and push it out to let it slam shut, the driver gets the point really quick and you do them a big favour.
• If you’re loading rocks, sometimes a rock will get wedged inside the bucket. It is possible you won’t see it because the bucket is upside down, when you are swinging back for another load the rock could fall out. Just be aware that if the rock falls out while your swinging, it will go flying and possibly hit something.
• Working around the woods can be dangerous! If you’re loading trees or piling brush up be careful of spring poles. I have a thumb on my machine now and it is great for picking things up or piling brush. When I didn’t have a thumb I had to be careful not to break the windshield. What happens is when you pull the brush toward you to pick it up, sticks fly or spring poles hit the machine or window? I learned to keep a pile of brush in front of me and use it to push against instead of the tracks. If you see a tall dead stub standing and you want to knock it down don’t just hit it a smash. When you hit the stub it creates a whip lash effect and the top goes flying and where it lands nobody knows. Most likely it will hit the top of the machine and could break something.
• If you are working in gravel or wet sand, this material will jam the sprockets so bad the excavator won’t move, especially if you sit in the same spot for a long period of time. If this happens, place the bucket on one side of the machine and pick one track completely off the ground. Begin rolling the track for a bit and then reverse the travel, keep turning the track until it rolls freely. Swing around to the other side and repeat the same thing.
• The undercarriage of an excavator is made up of different components that help it get around. One end is the final drive end; this end houses the sprockets that are powered by the final drives that make the excavator move. The other end holds the front idlers that keep the tracks straight and tight. When you dig, always keep the sprockets behind you, dig from the front idler end. If you’re in hard digging there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the undercarriage, so to avoid damages to the final drives dig from the front idler end. If you remember to do this it will help you in another area! Your excavator is equipped with traveling foot pedals, when you push ahead on the pedals the machine go ahead, push back on the pedals the machine go backwards. If you dig from the final drive end and push ahead on the traveling pedals you will go backwards, not that that’s a bad thing unless there is something behind you to run over.
• If at all possible dig from the idler end of the machine and position the machine so you can dig between the tracks, there is a lesser chance of catching the track with the bucket if you stay between the tracks. You won’t always be able to dig between the tracks just like you won’t always be able to dig from the front idler end. Another reason for keeping the final drives behind you is the weight; you need the weight behind you to hold the excavator down. That’s right, if you dig from over the side, the machine will actually lift off the ground. As you pull the bucket toward you the machine will settle down. When you’re lifting something heavy, lift with the counter weight over the sprockets.
Loading Trucks with an Excavator
Loading trucks with an excavator is common these days and has been for quite sometime. Excavators dig the ground much easier than a wheel loader and can work almost anywhere as a wheel loader needs to stay on hard level ground to work properly. The excavator operator must maintain a level working area for the truck drivers when they are digging out the earth. Wheel loaders work well in a quarry or gravel pit and can maintain a smooth road for the gravel trucks; however, the excavator operator needs to work at keeping a passable working area in a fill pit.
Picture yourself and your excavator on a large mound of earth and about 10 trucks to load. It depends on the size of the job but you could be loading anywhere from 2-3 trucks to 23 trucks. The size of the job will determine the size of the excavator. A 20 ton size excavator will easily load 10 trucks on a few mile haul. An easy formula to figure out what you need for equipment is to know how long it takes for one truck to load, dump and return to the loader. It is not good to keep too many trucks waiting to be loaded as they are usually working by the load and need to make as many trips as possible in one day. It’s best to create a system where all the truck drivers do the same thing each time, that way nobody is guessing. Anything you can do to speed things up will benefit the truckers and the company you work for, the company being your first priority.
If you are removing an 8 to 15 foot lift of fill, take it out in 2 lifts. If you are removing up to 8 feet of fill, one lift would be Ok. Keep this in mind; maintain the easiest path possible for the trucks as they sometimes have trouble getting to your excavator especially when the ground is wet. Your goal is to load as many trucks as you can in the shortest time frame. If you can make it so the trucks can drive through to be loaded this will speed things up a lot. The trucks would drive along your left side and you would load them over the side instead of from the back. Loading over the side is a bit faster because you can start dumping your bucket as soon as you pass over the tailgate and you have the length of the box to finishing dumping and reverse your swing.
Whether you load the truck from the side or the back it is much nicer to be sitting up higher than the truck. Sitting up on a pile of fill serves two main purposes! One purpose is that it creates a face to load from, each bucket fill begins at the bottom of the face and as you lift, the bucket is filling and all in one motion you continue toward the truck. The other purpose is that you can see how much is in the box and when the truck is loaded. Some trucks may take 8 normal buckets to fill it, but if you can put the same amount of material on the truck in 7 rounded buckets, the truck will be loaded that much quicker. Your goal is to load the trucks as fast as you can, so when you see that there is enough on the truck blow the horn. I always blow the horn as I am dumping the last bucket of earth because the truck driver needs time to release the brakes and get the truck into gear, I do this to speed things up.
If you plan to load the trucks over the back, make it so two trucks can sit side by side and so you can reach both of them without moving. When one truck is loaded it pulls away, while you already have a bucket full for the next truck. Then you load from where the first truck was setting. Once you get a system going all the truck drivers will know what you want. A very handy tool is a CB radio; tell the truck drivers what you want so they don’t have to guess. You can easily hold a CB mike in your hand while you operate an excavator; I do it all the time. All you have to do is turn the mike toward your mouth and speak a little louder than normal.
Do not get in the habit of digging behind you and swinging a full half circle to load the truck. Keep your fill pile behind you and dig beside the trucks, make sure you keep a clean work area for the trucks at all times. When you return to load the bucket, have it in the flat position ready to load and always start at the bottom of your fill pile. What I am saying is, don’t dig holes for the trucks to back into, maintain a grade suitable for the excavator and trucks. If you start with a 6 foot face, try to keep it that way or close.
Most truck drivers are easy to get along with, the ones that aren’t get an extra bucket or two. If you need time to clean up something it is better to do it now rather than later. If you are doing things to benefit a truck driver they won’t complain. If one or more truck driver is giving you a hard time, make a call to the foreman and they will be dealt with, although it would be better if you handled it yourself.
So, getting started will take some time but soon you will be organized. If possible I always start earlier to make sure my site is ready for the trucks. Sometimes you may have to ask for a dozer or grader to fix the road up for the trucks. Rough roads slow the trucks down and that slows the job down. If the area your loading trucks at is soft, the trucks may have a hard time starting a load. When the driver is ready I give them a push by placing the bucket at the back of the load, push against the dirt and when thre truck is rolling pull up quickly so the bucket doesn’t catch the tailgate of the truck.
If you have any questions at all about loading trucks with an excavator shoot them off to me through the contact us link and I will be happy to answer them for you.