Much of the country is seeing extreme cold this month. But along with that cold, we are also seeing an increase in accidents because the cold affects both the equipment and the operator. Heavy equipment safety means understanding the difference a drop in temperature makes.
Effects of Extreme Cold on Heavy Equipment
When metal gets extremely cold, it becomes brittle. It cannot absorb impact and pressure the way it normally would in warmer conditions. This means that the standard range of ductility and flexibility is severely limited. The assorted fluids keeping all the parts moving also change in subzero conditions, becoming thick or even useless.
Extra time must be taken to warm up the machinery before expecting it to perform optimally. Awareness of site conditions is also imperative. For example, frozen ground may require jackhammers instead of a backhoe. Frost causes slippery surfaces where no danger exists in warmer weather.
Effects of Extreme Cold on Heavy Equipment Operators
People who are cold do not perform at their peak any better than equipment does. Response time slows, muscles and joints are stiff and prone to injury, and it’s easy to be in danger of hypothermia, frostbite, or dehydration. Care must be taken for the operators to be dressed appropriately for the conditions they are working in. Today’s performance wear can keep an operator warm in the active/passive cycles that once caused problems, but it has to be worn along with good socks, boots, gloves, etc.
The heavier clothing worn in extreme cold muffles the hearing and can limit sight — both essential for safety. Thicker gloves change the way an operator senses controls, and big boots can change footing as the operator gets on or off the equipment.
During the classes at ATS Heavy Equipment Operator Training School, safety is discussed frequently — at times it seems repetitive. That repetition is on purpose, to get safety procedures so familiar they become automatic. Professionals practice safe standards, and are familiar with the changes subzero conditions can make on those standards.