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May 2022

Construction Newsletter

Experts Corner

The power of habit can ensure trouble-free equipment operation

Proper operating procedures are essential to both safety and the trouble-free operation of equipment, and the two often go together. However, as humans, we are often tempted to skip the extra steps required to ensure the best outcomes.

SMS Equipment Team Lead, Smart Construction Support, James Barr and Product Marketing Manager, Construction, Chris Gauthier, have found that the key is establishing daily habits - practical routines that become second nature. In this edition of Experts Corner, the team shares five habits that ensure that equipment operates reliably, and more importantly, that workers return home safely every day.

Habit 1: Always expect the unexpected.

Perhaps the most essential prerequisite to safe and reliable operation is a constant awareness that things can go wrong when you least expect them to.

James: When you do an inspection, you're not doing it for all the things you see. You're doing it for the one thing you see wrong and the possible impact it may have. I vividly remember an incident when I was a heavy equipment technician, we had to do crane inspections every day. It was a fairly extensive process - we had to run the crane all the way up, check the speeds, and essentially check every component. One morning, everything appeared perfectly normal, but we found that a safety mechanism wasn't working correctly upon inspection. And this was a 30-tonne crane, so you're lifting some pretty heavy gear. So we locked up the crane, knowing that there might have been some severe consequences if we hadn't. Incidents like that remind you why routine is so important.
<h3>Habit 2: Conduct daily walkarounds.</h3>

Habit 2: Conduct daily walkarounds.

Taking the time to perform a walkaround is essential for the correct operation procedure.

James: If I had to give one piece of advice, I'd say that equipment operators should always do a walkaround before they start operating a machine and then again at the end of the shift. Some of it is pretty universal - make sure all the joints are greased, check for oil leaks, and ensure that all safety features are working. The rest depends on the type of equipment, which means operators need to be very knowledgeable of the more sophisticated features of the machine.

Chris: A big part of the walkaround is making sure you have the right ground engagement tools for the application. For example, the right bucket with the right blade and teeth is in place with the proper guarding. A general-purpose bucket, for example, may not be the best choice for a particular application. Snow buckets, common on Canadian job sites, should only be used for snow, not heavier materials.

Habit 3 - Show respect for the equipment.

Today's equipment cabs are comfortable and ergonomically designed, but it's critical to understand the machine's limitations.

James: Heavy equipment is extremely powerful, and it's important to treat that with respect at all times. I jokingly remind people that these aren't go-karts you're driving around – these are machines that, if not handled properly, can do a lot of damage.

A critical point is always to make sure the ripper is lifted in the proper position before moving the equipment. Turning with the ripper buried in the dirt is extremely dangerous for the ripper itself and the shank - you can snap it, and you can also cause damage to the undercarriage. Running in reverse in 4th gear can also cause accelerated track wear. It's also important to remember the specific tasks the machine was designed for. Using an excavator when you should be using a loader, for example, could put undue stress on the equipment.
<h3>Habit 4: Think like an owner.<h3>

Habit 4: Think like an owner.

Everybody wins when equipment runs as economically as possible, but that can't happen unless the operator is on board.

James: If equipment is going to deliver its total value, operators have to act as if they owned it. One of the most common infractions is excessive idling - I've seen situations where equipment is left idling for an entire shift, which ultimately burns fuel and runs up the hours on the warranty.

Chris: One thing I can not stress enough with operators is always to remember to clean the tracks on a dozer or an excavator at the end of each shift. If left uncleaned, the material packs and builds up, causing issues such as throwing out your bushings and causing faster wear to undercarriage tracks. If you use a track shovel to clean after each shift, you can prolong the life of the undercarriage massively. That's very significant - undercarriage makes up 40% of the repair bills on an excavator, and it might be as high as 70% on a dozer.

Another point is limiting the amount of 'walking' you do with the equipment. Powerful machinery burns a lot of fuel, so unnecessary travel of the machine can add a variety of costs.

Habit 5: Read the manual

Unlike manuals for many products, heavy equipment manuals are designed to be used.

Chris: Heavy equipment manuals are excellent. They're easy to understand and reference for a wide range of information - everything from operating techniques to wear products on the buckets to checking oil levels. And, of course, there are all sorts of tips related to safety, including warning indicators, blind spots, safety mechanisms, and basic dos and don'ts. Knowing that manual should be second nature

James: The manual is the most underutilized tool on the whole machine. When I answer people's questions during training sessions, I always refer them to the manual because the manual should be their gospel when I'm no longer there.

The bottom line:

Our safety depends on ingrained habits such as checking rear-view mirrors, signaling to change lanes, or checking carefully before backing up when we drive our cars. Heavy equipment operators need to bring a similar level of competence to the many complex tasks that they are called upon to undertake.

SMS Equipment provides complete support for operators, including training, manuals, repair, and preventive maintenance.
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