The Safest Place to Be: Seatbelts Necessary to Stay Inside the Cab

Regardless of the mobile equipment being operated, all too often operators fail to wear the seatbelts provided in the cabs of their telehandlers, cranes, and other equipment. Even among those who do a good job of making seat belt usage a wear-it-or-work-someplace-else issue, there is still that occasional buckle that can be seen dangling and reflecting in the sunlight.

These unbuckled operators probably wore their seatbelts in their vehicles on the drive to work this morning, and will do the same on the way home. So what is it about the job that makes otherwise safety-minded equipment operators suddenly cast off their seat belt cinches in favor of the slide and ride thrill of unrestrained upholstery?

I don't think it has anything to do with the job, but has a lot to do with speed • or the lack thereof.
 

A likely scenario

Imagine yourself in the early morning hours on the commute to work. Coffee cup in one hand, cell phone in the other, you have become very adept at steering mid-stream in a five lane high-speed freeway with nothing more then your knee on the wheel and an occasional elbow assist in the turns. Even when the guy you are tailgating slams on his brakes, your knee steers without hesitation to the median shoulder, and you pass a good 20 cars before you find a place to get back in the fast lane. Boy, are you getting good at this or what?

Of course safety is what you live by according to all the company safety awards perched on your fireplace mantle. And look at your driving record. It hasn't had a hit in more than 20 years. Besides, you always wear your seat belt while on the road. That's just common sense.

So, once on the job you do the walk around of the telehandler, crane or excavator you are assigned to and climb in the cab. It's only a short distance over to the site and, heck, construction equipment only travels about a 1/2 mile an hour when the wind is in its favor. No speed, no danger, no seatbelt needed, right?

As you get to work lifting or loading, that seat belt buckle spends its day bouncing, jiggling, and dangling just below your thigh. Occasionally, it clangs against the seat frame reminding you that it's still there, just in case you might want to put it on. But there's no need for seatbelts in a telehandler, crane, or excavator, right? Compared to that suicide ride to work this morning, this cab is the safest place to be!

As the sun starts its downward journey you reposition the machine to reach one more piece of work before calling it a day. Suddenly, the engine strains, the machine tips, and the last thing you ever remember is falling out the door of the cab.
 

No need for speed

The safest place for any equipment operator to be when a machine is involved in a rollover is inside the ROPS-protected cab. But staying there is almost impossible when operators don't wear their belts as required. Instead, they often end up crushed to death outside the very cab that was designed to protect them.

I find that many operators measure the need for wearing seat belts proportionately to an exposure to speed. Consequently, other less obvious hazards such as load- or terrain-induced bounce or unexpected ground failure are disregarded. In even the slowest moving equipment, it takes more than good intentions to stay inside the cab when the machine is lying on its side. (Read a recent example of one operator's failure to wear a seatbelt in this excavator accident.)

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About the Author: 

Rick Raef

Rick Raef is a heavy construction safety consultant for Willis Group Holdings, San Francisco, a global insurance broker. Raef has been with Willis since 1996, during which time he developed a crisis management program called "Character-Based Crisis Management: A Contractor's Survival Guide." He is currently the editor of WCSN-The Willis Construction Safety Network, an electronic safety bulletin distributed to contractors in the United States and Australia. You can contact Rick Raef at raef_ri@willis.com.