The brave men and women who don their steel-toed boots and neon green safety T-shirts to build the nation’s highways and byways put their lives on the line every day to create the road systems that motorists may take for granted.
It’s not easy work when all of the variables of working in such a hazardous environment. Cars and trucks speed by at 80-plus miles an hour; inhalation of jobsite debris can sometimes be the root cause of both minor and major respiratory issues; and working at height on our bridge systems can result in serious injury or death with just one small misstep.
Not only are road workers dealing with traffic whizzing by them, they’re also likely manipulating equipment to carry out their tasks at the same time. It’s a dangerous job in a dangerous setting. Again, there’s nothing easy about it.
As manufacturers in the construction industry, it’s extremely important to do our part in supporting the folks who are out there making our country better one road, one overpass, or one pothole at a time. Many manufacturers are already making strides in making their equipment the “safest on the market,” and incorporating protection systems like roll over protection (ROPS), and falling object protection (FOPS) for their riding equipment.
However, it’s not just excavators, skid steers, and rollers that need to focus on safety. Speak with a contractor, and they will most likely tell you that for a standard road construction project, for every one skid steer or excavator, there are approximately 10 smaller pieces of equipment that are equally as important to the success of the project — anything from dowel pin drills to generators, rammers, light towers, and everything in between. Each piece of equipment has its purpose, and choosing the best equipment can often lead to a cohesive, productive, and safe working environment.
That being said, as the people who manufacture the equipment that construction crews work with every day, manufacturers’ messages need to be less about using safety as a way to market our products, and more about how our equipment fits into creating a safer all-around jobsite. It’s the least we can do to support our industry. Safety is not a gimmick, or a line item on a sell sheet — it needs to be taken seriously.
There are myriad technologies available to combat the common safety pitfalls on any jobsite, and regardless of manufacturer, contractors should always have the best interests of their crews in mind when making their purchasing decisions. Each piece of equipment on the job site provides their own unique challenges, so here are a few general things to consider when purchasing equipment.
Keeping a safe distance
When at all possible, it is important for the operator to be removed from the point of action on a jobsite. Anytime machinery is drilling, breaking, tamping, pounding, cutting, scraping, pouring or crushing, it presents possible hazards to construction crew members. Some manufacturers are taking the driver’s seat when it comes to keeping crew members away from the action by developing automatic technology to integrate into their machinery.
As an example, manufacturers of large-gang dowel pin drills, which are an integral part of the road building process, are now available in self-propelled models. Dowel pin drills ride along the slab of cured concrete drilling holes into the side of the slab. These holes allow workers to insert pieces of rebar into the holes and make it possible for two adjacent concrete slabs to align once the next slab is poured. The self-propelled units offer an alternative to pushing the unit down the slab, and takes at least part of the danger out of the equation.
Dowel pin drills are one example of removing the operator from the action, but it’s not like this is an entirely new idea. The operator cabs of heavy machinery; like excavators and backhoes are also removed from immediate danger (perched safely atop the unit), but the location of the operator still allows the machinery to be transported without presenting hazards to the crew.
It does not make sense for the cab of an excavator to be located near the tracks or where work is being done. Not only would it be considered unsafe, but it’s also inefficient. This technology that removes the operator from the action is more of a tried-and-true idea that has simply been translated into other types of equipment.
Control at your fingertips
Along the same vein of keeping the operator at a safe distance from the point of action, many different types of road-building equipment offer remote control operation of select units. Interestingly enough, not only are there incredible safety benefits in operating equipment via remote control, but plenty of jobsite efficiencies can be gained by providing a better vantage point for the operator. In the case of dowel pin drills, by placing the operator in an area with a better line of sight, the holes are drilled more accurately and more efficiently as well. Traditionally, operators would be running the drill via the control panel, directly above the area to be drilled. This makes it difficult to see exactly where the holes need to be drilled without craning your neck, or constantly stepping off the slab to check location accuracy, then stepping back on the slab to make adjustments, and then drilling.
Not only does remote control technology keep operators at a safe distance from the unit itself, it also allows them to be away from potentially harmful concrete dust, out of the way of traffic, and also allows them to be located farther away from the heat and noise of the portable air compressor, which powers the drill unit.
With control literally at the operator’s fingertips, and armed with a much better line of sight to the area to be drilled, efficiency is increased, as well as operator safety — all great things that positively affect contractors’ bottom lines.
A breath of fresh air
The processes that are required to create a road from scratch include actions that kick up dust and debris. This is just another common hazard on the jobsite, and it’s important for us to do our part to minimize airborne particles being inhaled by workers, which can lead to respiratory system issues. One organization that we work closely with is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and part of their mission is to evaluate workplace hazards, including dust inhalation. We, along with many other manufacturers work hand-in-hand with NIOSH while engineering equipment to make job sites safer.
One of the most serious ailments that NIOSH has identified as a hazard to construction crews is a condition called silicosis. Most concrete and masonry products contain silica sand and rock containing silica, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): even materials containing small amounts of crystalline silica may be hazardous if they are used in ways to produce high dust concentrations. (To read more, go to cdc.gov/niosh/docs/96-112.)
Silicosis can result in severe lung inflammation, increased risk for lung infections, and in severe cases, respiratory failure. It’s plain to see why proper procedures to mitigate risk to the crew are extremely important — these may include respirators and other PPE, wetting of the job site, or possibly using dust collection systems to minimize exposure.
Customized equipment for unique jobs
Each jobsite is different and can present unique challenges to the contractors involved. Many variables can contribute to the complexity of the job, and it is the responsibility of the contractor management team, including fleet managers and foremen to determine the best equipment for the job. In many cases, sometimes the best equipment is something that does not exist yet. This is another area where manufacturers can step in and provide the best tool for the job.
As an example, we recently received a call from a contractor and dealer asking to design custom equipment for a highway project in Effingham, Illinois. The challenge was to keep workers safe while anchoring temporary concrete barriers to the existing slab. The solution was to create a custom unit that rode along the top rail of the barriers and drilled through the footing to the slab so that they could be anchored without workers having to redirect traffic, or put themselves in harm’s way.
With input from the contractor and dealer, we were able to help engineer a solution that worked extremely efficiently and ultimately kept workers safe. Manufacturers and equipment dealers across the board should look at the needs of the project, and if their equipment isn’t providing the correct solution, they should do everything within their power to make sure they can provide that solution, even if it means deviating from their standard product offering.
The future is now
In this ever-advancing technological age that we are experiencing, you can bet that the technology surrounding the safety of construction crews will only improve and become more accessible. Many organizations claim that safety is a pillar of their core ideology, and contractors, dealers, and manufacturers alike need to continue their dedication to making sure construction crews are making it home safely to their families at the end of the day.
Highways and bridges are crumbling, and infrastructure is something that most Americans can agree on as a solid investment in our country, and we’re not likely to see road construction projects break ground less frequently anytime in the near future.
It is our duty as an industry to provide the proper tools and practices for construction crews to carry out their jobs efficiently and safely. With the help of technological advances in construction equipment, we are getting better and better at that everyday, and this only promises better solutions as we look toward tomorrow.
About the author: Todd Jurjevic is sales and marketing director for Minnich Manufacturing. He may be contacted by phone at 419-903-0010 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.