June 1, 2011
Avoid injuries and citations by conducting a thorough inspection of mobile equipment before use.
By Kerry Clines, Senior Editor
Mobile equipment covers a broad spectrum of vehicles, from 100-ton haul trucks to small skid-steer loaders. Each piece of equipment has different safety concerns, but there are some basic steps that can make operating any piece of equipment safer. According to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), these steps include the following:
• Maintain mobile equipment.
• Always wear a seat belt.
• Be aware of the location and traffic patterns of mobile equipment in your work area.
• Sound the horn to warn persons of intended movement.
Operating mobile equipment without following these steps can result in accidents and injuries that may involve fatalities, as well as citations. Nearly a third, 30 percent, of all fatalities that occurred in 2010 in metal/non-metal mines involved mobile equipment operators. That’s a large percentage, especially when you consider that most of these incidents could have been avoided by following proper safety procedures.
Part of the problem is the size of the equipment. “The equipment is so much larger today that you have visibility issues,” says Ed Elliott, director of safety and health for Rogers Group. “Cameras can be used to give operators better visibility, but because of the size and weight of the equipment, any issues that develop are significant issues. We always think of large equipment such as trucks, loaders, and shovels, but you also have issues with smaller equipment such as skid-steer loaders.”
Having both large and small equipment at an operation can lead to problems. Sounding the horn before moving, staying in touch with other equipment operators, and being aware of the surrounding area are all key factors when it comes to safety.
During 2010, nearly 3000 citations were issued to surface stone and sand and gravel operations for failure to maintain mobile equipment — 30 CFR § 56.14100: Safety defects; examination, correction, and records.
Performing pre-operation inspections to detect mobile equipment defects is important for any safety program. “We were receiving a number of citations from MSHA on mobile equipment for things like a headlight out or a windshield wiper that wasn’t working,” Elliott says. “We increased our intensity on inspections and found that it made a big difference. But having a good inspection process and follow through means not just inspecting it, but also correcting it.”
Post-operation inspections are important as well. If something is damaged or malfunctions during operation, the maintenance crew needs to know about it in order to carry out repairs.
Maintenance and repair pose a significant safety concern for mobile equipment. “You go back to the size and weight of the equipment when having to do something as simple as changing a tire,” Elliott says. “When you talk about changing a tire on a 100-ton haul truck, it can present significant problems. We no longer change our tires. We bring someone in who knows that business so we know it’s going to be done more efficiently and safely.”
Elliott says that one of the most hazardous times for an operator of mobile equipment is getting on and off the machine. “People tend to overlook that,” he says. “MSHA would say there are a number of fatalities associated with the movement of mobile equipment, but from an injury standpoint, we found at Rogers Group that failing to properly mount and dismount equipment using the three points of contact poses some of the greatest risks to the operator for injury.” Some mobile equipment manufacturers are addressing this issue by replacing ladders with stairways, making it easier for the operator to get in and out of the cab.
Education and training are the keys to safety in mobile equipment, and as equipment evolves, training will have to follow suit. “Mobile equipment has changed a lot over the last few years and has the potential over the next 10 to 15 years to have dramatic changes,” Elliott says. “Computers are involved in the operation and efficiency of mobile equipment. Emissions are dramatically lower. The operation of the equipment itself is so much easier and simpler today. Loaders have gone from steering wheels to joysticks. These are significant improvements. All of these present different opportunities for training and education. Eventually, we’ll see wide use of simulators to instruct prospective employees in the mining industry to make them more prepared to step into the mining environment. That will bring more consistency and thoroughness in training for inexperienced employees and can bring experienced employees to a new level of understanding about efficient operation of mobile equipment. Having the wherewithal to provide the necessary training is a pretty daunting task, but technology is rapidly overtaking the mining industry.”
The Small Mine Office developed a series of weekly ToolBox talks that can be used by small mine operators and others to hold safety and health discussions for employees at their mining operations. These ToolBox talks were developed in consultation with members of the mining community. To get the free app, enter http://www.gettag.mobi into your browser.