The work of a heavy equipment operator is tough. The alarm goes off sometime around 5 am every morning. You splash some cold water on your face and try to stretch your sore, stiff back. Every morning you hear a new crack and pop and feel another new ache. You look out the window hoping to see sunshine, only to see your window pane covered in a sheet of glass. Many of the guys you know have been laid off for the winter, but you still have work to do. You grab your thermos, bundle up and head out to your company truck parked in the driveway, ready to start the day.
Except, the truck won’t start.
Last night’s subzero temperatures zapped what power your old battery had left, plus you realized you left your phone plugged into the charger. It’s going to be one of those days. Cold weather can wreak havoc on your truck, your body and the equipment you rely on to do your job every day.
Whether you run dozers, excavators, cranes or plows you’re familiar with the woes of winter weather. It’s cold, it’s wet and it’s icy. It seems every other day you’re experiencing equipment failure in some way or another. Your boss is dead-set on squeezing every drop of billable hours out of every single machine, yet the cold weather and harsh conditions are making that impossible. What do you do when your back is up against the wall?
5 Simple Tips to Help Heavy Equipment Operators Survive the Cold this Winter
1. Check Your Machine’s Battery and other components
Rain, snow and freezing temperatures can do a number on your machine’s ability to perform. Even things as simple as a dead battery in a work truck or equipment can make for a bad day. Batteries lose about 60% of their strength at 0° F and 32% at just 32° F. Starting a vehicle in cold weather puts the battery under a lot of strain, furthering that power loss. Charging cell phones, iPads and tablets can add to that strain. Overlook the warning signs of a failing battery and you’ll be left out in the cold. Make sure regular maintenance is part of your daily routine all throughout the year. That means doing a daily walk-around to check for abnormalities.
Watch for these battery breakdown signs:
Grinding or clicking sound when turning the ignition
Machine cranks slowly when starting
Headlights dim when idling and brightens when engine revs
Battery is more than 3 years old
Keep an eye on these telltale signs and replace your battery before you get left in the cold. Also, you’ll want to check any heaters and defrosting devices and make repairs before Mother Nature comes calling.
2. Review your Traction Control Program
Icy conditions increase the chances for dangerous slip and falls on any jobsite. Do you have a traction control system in place to avoid those risks? Take the time to properly remove snow and ice from your equipment and job sites before starting work. Ice melt products can prevent you and your equipment from slipping and sliding on icy surfaces.
Ice spikes, or ice cleats, are great ways to improve grip and stability. The good news is that you can now choose ice cleats that can be used while walking and driving! How many times did you go without because it was too much of a hassle to put on/take off every time you got back into your equipment? Stay on your feet and off your rear with multi-use ice cleats, check them out by clicking here. Steps, grip plates and grabs can be extremely slippery when temperatures dip, so be cautious when entering and exiting your equipment. Don’t forget, snow can also hide obstructions on any job site. Make sure to do routine sweeps of your work sites to avoid puncturing tires or damaging your machine’s tracks.
3. Improve Visibility in Harsh Conditions
The cold, gray and dismal days of winter can make for a long shift. Add low-visibility into the mix when running a loader or forklift and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. When conditions outside deteriorate, not only are equipment operators at risk, but so is anyone else on site. Other workers, passerbys and visitors can quickly become victims if you can’t see each other.
High-visibility drivers gloves, vests and accessories can help you stand out against complex backgrounds, low-light conditions and low-visibility situations. Hi-viz gear, traffic signs and communication devices go a long way in improving safety on jobsites.
4. Staying Warm when Temperatures Fall
Heavy equipment operators need to take special precautions to protect themselves from cold stress, hypothermia and other winter related hazards. Unlike other drivers, they usually don’t have the luxuries of a heated and enclosed cab. So, what’s an operator to do? Layering your clothes is a good place to start. Begin by evaluating the everyday hazards of your job. Winter work gear like overalls, jackets, base layers, hand protection, hats and liners should not only keep you warm, but should protect against those risks. You’ll need to pay special attention to safety risks such as arc flash, flash fire, and chemical exposure. You can have comfort and safety, you just need to take everything into account.
5. Braving the Harsh Wyoming Winds
Regions like Wyoming are home to some interesting winter weather conditions. While the rest of the country is concerned about freezing temperatures, black ice and blizzards, the mountain states are known for additional risk. Not only do workers in these areas battle the same conditions as most of the U.S., they also face high winds.
High Wyoming winds may not sound very treacherous. After all, we’re not talking hurricane force winds here, but close. It’s actually among the top risks for truckers and heavy equipment operators. These workers face major risks when winds increase to over 65 miles per hour. Between 2009-14 there were 200 reported cases of truck blowovers along Interstate-80 alone! What does that mean for you? It means you need to pay attention and take heed when there are posted wind advisories! There’s nothing worse than driving along I-80 or running an excavator and being whipped around like a rag doll. It also means management needs to take warnings seriously as well, so that drivers and operators don’t feel pressured to keep trucking along.
No matter what line of work you’re in, winter weather brings a slew of hazards you need to be prepared for. Now’s the time to review your current safety program. Plan now and get ahead of what Mother Nature has in store.