The backhoe-loader is one of the most popular pieces of construction equipment in the world, which should place safe operation as a top priority. Because the person in the operator’s seat is the one responsible for what the machine does, responsibility for safety largely rests on that individual’s shoulders.
Ironically, accidents often involve experienced operators. One reason is the overconfidence that comes with years of experience without an incident. According to VISTA Training, a firm specializing in heavy equipment operator training, working too close to an edge and operating on steep or uneven grades are the leading causes of accidents.
Clearly, operators need to think about every single move they make before they make it. But some loads change the center of gravity and affect machine stability. Slow, steady movement is the safest way to maintain control, VISTA Training advises. If the machine starts to feel unstable, stop everything until you regain control. Always keep the load as close to the ground as possible and don’t raise it until you arrive at the spot where you are going to set it.
Safe practices should begin before the machine is even started. First, perform a walkaround inspection. Next, make sure all functions are operating properly and the machine is set for safe, comfortable operation.
“After crawling into the cab, make sure the parking brake is engaged,” says Jim Blower, JCB. “Then make sure all of the controls are moving free. Get the seat into a position where you can reach all of the controls that you need to reach.” Then fasten the seat belt. “The machines are rated to be able to roll over, and the safest place for the operator in the event of a machine rollover is sitting in the seat.”
Greg Worley, marketing development engineer, Caterpillar, echoes the importance of fastening the seatbelt, adding, “Make sure you are familiar with all the controls. If you are going to road the machine, make sure your independent brake pedals are locked together. Then, adjust the seat and the steering wheel into the correct position for comfort and for being able to reach all controls safely.
“Make sure the boom is locked and the swing lock is in place if you are going to road the machine,” he continues. “Survey your surroundings once again before moving the machine, and sound your horn before moving off. Before you start to dig, make sure you are aware which control pattern has been selected for your machine (backhoe or excavator pattern).”
One of the biggest dangers of using the loader is vehicle and pedestrian traffic around you. Checking to ensure the backup alarm is working must be part of your routine daily inspection.
Create A stable digging platform
Backhoe-loader stabilizers serve two purposes. “You want stability over the side and you also want to stop the machine from sliding around when you are digging a trench,” says Blower.
According to VISTA Training, the best setup for backhoe work is when the stabilizers are spread to their full width and the loader bucket is in solid contact with the ground. If the tires are carrying the weight of the machine, it will bounce slightly, transmitting vibration to the operator and into the controls. This causes the machine to shake even more. For extra holding power, roll the bucket all the way over and dig in the cutting edge and sill plate.
“You really should not ever use the backhoe without the stabilizers down,” Blower emphasizes. “You will pick them up to move a machine when repositioning for trenching, but you really need to have the most stable platform you can get for digging and lifting purposes. The only way to stabilize a backhoe is to put those stabilizers down on firm ground.”
“We would not recommend using the hoe of a backhoe-loader without the stabilizers being down enough to support the weight of the machine,” agrees Worley. “We also recommend the front bucket to be down, lifting the front of the machine for maximum stability. However, for some applications, it is possible to operate with the front bucket up off the ground but not fully raised up in the air.”