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Heavy Equipment

When using heavy equipment, there are five basic guidelines that employees must always follow to ensure safety:

  1. Know how to properly operate the equipment you are using.
  2. Do not use heavy machinery when you are drowsy, intoxicated, or taking prescription medication that may affect your performance.
  3. Use only equipment that is appropriate for the work to be done.
  4. Inspect your equipment to ensure that it is in good working condition before beginning a job. In addition, ensure that regular inspections and maintenance are conducted as appropriate.
  5. Do not stress or overload your equipment.

Accidents do not just happen, they are caused. Therefore, employees should also follow these guidelines:

  • Ensure the following before leaving equipment unattended:
    • All buckets, blades, etc. are on the ground.
    • Transmission is in neutral.
    • Engine is off.
    • Equipment is secure against movement.
  • Never get on or off moving equipment.
  • Do not attempt to lubricate or adjust a running engine.
  • Turn the engine off before refueling.
  • Keep all shields and safety guards in place.
  • Avoid underground utilities and overhead power lines.

The following sections provide basic guidelines for working with forklifts, front-end loaders, and backhoes. Refer to the product documentation that accompanied your equipment for more information and specific instructions.


Only authorized employees may operate forklifts. The following list provides general safety guidelines:

  • Do not allow riders.
  • Do not raise people on a forklift.
  • Do not speed.
  • Drive up and back down ramps.
  • Do not walk, stand, or work under the elevated portion of a forklift (even if it is not loaded).
  • Ensure that the forklift has an overhead barrier to protect the operator from falling objects.

In addition, follow these guidelines for safe forklift operation:

  • Always work within the capacity limits of your forklift. Consult with the manufacturer before modifying the operation or capacity limits of a forklift.
  • Do not operate a forklift in areas with hazardous concentrations of acetylene, butadiene, hydrogen, ethylene, or diethyl ether, or other explosive environment.
  • Never lift a load while moving. Wait until you are completely stopped before raising the mast.
  • Be sure the top load sits squarely on the stack. An uneven load could topple.
  • Travel with loads slightly tilted back to provide stability.
  • Travel with loads at the proper height. A stable clearance height is usually 4 to 6 inches at the tips and 2 inches at the heels of fork blades.
  • Lift stacked loads in the same manner as loads on the floor.
  • When preparing to leave the forklift unattended, lower the mast, neutralize the controls, shut the power off, and set the brakes. The forklift is When preparing to leave the forklift unattended, lower the mast, neutralize the controls, shut the power off, and set the brakes. The forklift is "unattended"
  • When ascending or descending a grade in excess of 10 percent, drive the forklift with the load upgrade.
  • If you cannot see over a load, drive in reverse. Do not try to look around a load and drive forward.

Back Hoes

Only authorized employees may operate backhoes and front-end loaders. The following list offers general safety guidelines for both types of machinery:

  • Always operate at a safe speed.
  • Travel with the bucket low to the ground.
  • Always lower the bucket before servicing the equipment or leaving the loader unattended.
  • Use a rigid-type coupler when towing loads.
  • Always check with the utility company before digging.
  • Be extremely careful when operating near banks and slopes.
  • When cutting a bank, be careful not to cause a cave-in. Do not drive on an overhang.

May 2011
Reviewed November 2014