To meet the heavy-duty classification, equipment must weigh 5,000 pounds or more. That is 25 times the weight of an average American man. Considering an excavator’s weight of 4,000 pounds to over 45 tons, any worker caught in a man vs. machine incident has an increased risk for a serious injury.

Following safety protocols can help to prevent accidents with heavy-duty machinery. Workers must know and follow OSHA regulations, reducing the risk of injury and workers’ compensation claims. The first step is understanding heavy equipment operator duties and responsibilities.

Safety Training

Every heavy equipment operator needs training on correctly using the machinery they operate. This training is crucial for all equipment, including cranes, loaders, forklifts, bulldozers, excavators, and more. Only workers with proper training and certification should operate the equipment.

A machine operator must set up, monitor, operate, and troubleshoot their equipment. If they fail to follow safety protocols, they put themselves and fellow workers at risk. If someone suffers injuries because of operator error, that operator may be liable for damages.

Operators should only operate the equipment if they are mentally and emotionally alert and in good physical condition. A distracted or sick operator increases the chance of an equipment accident.

When mounting and dismounting equipment, it is recommended to use three points of contact. This means keeping two feet and one hand, or two hands and one foot in contact with the equipment to prevent a fall or misstep. Operators should never jump from the equipment.

Inspections and Testing

Proper maintenance and verification that machinery is operating correctly are imperative before every use. Using a heavy equipment inspection checklist, the operator can ensure that all areas are checked before operation. The operator should note any defects or malfunctions and repairs made before use.

When maintenance employees work on equipment, following safety procedures can help to ensure they are not injured. They must follow proper lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedures to prevent the machinery from starting up and causing injury.

Each piece of equipment comes with recommendations for LOTO devices. LOTO activation needs to be performed by someone with training and authorization for device use.


Preventing workplace accidents requires knowing that every piece of heavy machinery is designed for a specific task. Operators should not improvise by using an incorrect piece of machinery to accomplish a task.

Heavy equipment accidents increase when the wrong machinery is used in a job. This may damage the machinery, injure the employee, or both.

Compliance With Load Limits

It is crucial to consider the stability of the equipment when loading or unloading to prevent equipment from tipping over or loads from falling. When tiering, ensure the heaviest load goes at ground level to prevent tip-overs.

The weight and dimensions of each piece of equipment are in the handbook or specification sheet. There should be three measures:

  • Operating weight of empty machine with fuel and lubricants
  • Rated load
  • Load distribution between axles

It is important to check specifications when changing machinery. For instance, an excavator with a long boom and sticks will likely have a lower lift capacity rating than a machine with short booms, sticks, and large counterweights.

Workplace Hazard Inspections

Assess the area where the equipment will operate for possible obstructions or hazards. When using equipment outside, such as construction, there is a risk of gas lines, cables and wires, power lines, dugout holes and trenches, and low clearance.

Operating a high-lo inside a building requires awareness of racking systems, other workers in the area, pallets sitting on the floor, and other obstructions.

When heavy equipment is in operation, visibility must be clear with minimal blind spots and room for maneuverability. Set up warning signs and safety notices to inform others that equipment is operational in the area.

PPE Enforcement

Personal protective equipment lowers the risk of exposure to danger. Each piece of machinery will have recommendations on whether the operator should wear a hard hat or helmet, gloves, goggles, face shields, safety glasses, ear plugs or muffs, safety shoes, back gear, long-sleeve shirts, long pants, or high-visibility clothing.

Don’t ignore safety belts! The safety harnesses inside heavy equipment prevent operators from falling from the cockpit. Ejection from the cab can result in entrapment or being crushed if the equipment falls, tilts, or rolls over.

Every operator should avoid wearing loose clothing, dangling jewelry, or loose long hair that can become entangled in equipment.

Knowledge of OSHA Standards

Employers are responsible for taking the steps necessary to prevent common workplace injuries. This includes ensuring manufacturer-approved safeguards are in place and replacing any that show damage. Never remove or bypass safeguards.

Machinery safeguard violations causing industrial equipment accidents made the list of OSHA’s top ten violations in 2023. OSHA considers a machine guard a barrier preventing access to a dangerous area. Any type of machinery capable of causing a severe workplace injury, including amputations, burns, or crushing body parts, has mandatory safeguards.

Louisiana law provides protection for employees suffering injury on the job, including the ability to seek compensation for lost wages, medical expenses, and more.

Common Heavy Equipment Operator Accidents

Falls are one of the leading causes of death in construction. Workers not wearing high-visibility equipment around heavy equipment operators suffer injuries from being struck by the machinery.

According to the 2023 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, there were 738 fatalities in 2022 because of contact with objects and equipment. Machinery was the source of 199 of those fatalities.

When proper safety protocols are not in use, workers become caught in or between moving parts of machinery. This can result in everything from a minor injury to amputation, crushing, or death.

When maintenance workers fail to utilize lock-out procedures, they can suffer electrocution, amputation, or other injuries while performing repairs or routine maintenance.

Even when safety protocols are in place, there is always a risk of injury on the job. Some jobs have a higher risk, including warehouse management, factories, and other industrial locations where heavy-duty equipment is used.

Following Heavy Equipment Accidents

If you suffer injuries as a heavy equipment operator or because of an operator’s actions, contact Talbot, Carmouche & Marcello. We have over 50 years of experience fighting for people following injury accidents.

Even if you doubt having a case, contact our firm for a free consultation. We can advise you on your legal rights and any possible compensation for your injuries. The consultation is free, so you have nothing to lose.