Published onJanuary 15 2021
This voluntary code of practice is made available free of charge and all images are provided copyright free – as OPERC believes in sharing good practice to improve the lives of workers within all sectors.
The OPERC VCOP seeks to introduce a universally accepted set of hand signals across the Industry, specifically designed to train and educate operators and banksmen when using excavators as cranes to handle objects.
Although we acknowledge that such signals alone are not a cure-all to curbing incidents and accidents, it is hoped that such will go some way to removing ambiguity and confusion that can contribute to hazards occurring.
Modern tracked hydraulic and wheeled excavators (both 180° and 360° models) are widely used internationally throughout the construction and civil engineering industries to undertake earthmoving and site clearance operations for buildings and infrastructure development.
Against the backdrop of these versatile machines, it would seem ironic that a notable lack of simple hand signals for excavators when operating as cranes continues to cause incidents, accidents and fatalities amongst construction workers and members of the public. This issue is perhaps caused in part by the machine’s versatility – made possible by rapid and innovative engineering developments that often outstrip the knowledge and formal education/training of both operators and supervisors of excavators on site.
Perhaps some responsibility lies at the door of training Providers and accreditation schemes that fail to train operators on basic hand signals – but then again, which signals do they train operators with, given that several international and national standards are available? These questions are intended to challenge current thinking and encourage wider research and collaboration to solve the prevailing problems within the various sectors where excavators are used as cranes.
The tracked or wheeled hydraulic 360° excavator and the wheeled 180° excavators are amongst the most widely utilised items of off-highway plant.
These mobile machines are primarily employed for earthmoving operations but also operate within diverse working environments including demolition, highways, quarrying, mining and mineral extraction, forestry, agriculture, construction and highways.
The excavator’s popularity stems from its inherent versatility which is achieved via hydraulic lines which enable various implements to be fitted to the machine’s dipper (or stick) to extend machine functionality, for example tilt rotators, impact hammers, buckets, crushing and screening attachments, compaction plates, clamshells, and grabs.
Excavators are also increasingly being used to perform certain lifting operations on site, this method is subsequently referred to as using excavators as cranes. A purpose-designed lifting point is fitted to the excavator and used to allow a freely suspended load to be lifted, moved and positioned.
Whilst an excavator should not automatically be the first option considered for a lifting operation, its widespread application for smaller, non-precision and repetitive lifting tasks must be recognised. As such, the lifting operation must comply with, and undergo, a thorough examination as required by the Lifting Operations and Lifting Regulations (LOLER).
Despite the excavator’s widespread popularity and significant contribution to the built environment and infrastructure development, incidents, accidents, and fatalities continue to plague the Industry. Using excavators as cranes adds a further layer of risk to an operation.
Some of these are due to incorporation of the lifting process itself, such as failure of the lifting equipment or unplanned detachment of part or all of the load being lifted.
Others arise from the fact that excavators are designed primarily as a digging machine, not lifting, so they move differently and more quickly, particularly when turning and slewing. This in turn increases risks such as instability or contact with objects or persons.
Effective communication between site personnel is crucial in mitigating many of the risks that lead to the accidents and incidents. When utilising excavators as cranes, the banksman or signaller forms an important partnership with the machine operator. The banksman is the person who directs the movement of the machine from the points near where a load is attached and detached – particularly when the excavator operator may not have clear visibility.
Communication is often achieved using a combination of mobile telecommunications devices, verbal commands and importantly hand signals. However, despite this essential role, there are at present no international standards available that define and prescribe hand signals for banksmen when excavators are used as cranes to handle objects.
Furthermore, there is no universal agreement in operator training courses on what signals should be used if an excavator is utilised as a lifting device. Such a notable gap in current practice literature can lead to poor communication and confusion between the operator and banksman, and can lead to unnecessary incidents, accidents or fatalities occurring.
OPERC acknowledges that its VCOP will be subject to periodic review and revision, and that the association is open to receiving constructive advice and guidance from practitioners on subsequent revisions, additions, or amendments.
Mick Norton BEM