How To: Use a backhoe safely

A skid-steer loader with a backhoe attachment can be extremely productive--if operated efficiently and safely. That means you need to recognize situations that could result in an accident or cause property or equipment damage. Therefore, the best way to get the job done safely and efficiently is to know yourself, your equipment and the job site.

While manufacturers' models vary, some good safety features for which you can look include: * Steps and grab handles for getting on and off the machine

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* Frame-lock levers and attaching levers to keep the backhoe securely fastened to the loader frame during transportation and operation.

In addition to these standard safety items, some backhoe manufacturers provide a safety chain. The chain prevents the backhoe mounting frame from rotating backward and unexpectedly trapping the operator, which could cause serious injury or death. This can occur if the backhoe mounting frame is improperly attached or is damaged, modified or excessively worn. Obviously, it's important to check all mounting and attachment points and the safety chain before operating the backhoe.

Getting ready Once you've attached the backhoe to the loader, take a moment to inspect it and perform necessary maintenance: * Check for broken or damaged parts * Check all hydraulic hoses for cuts, excessive wear and leaks * Check all control levers.

The safety signs and instructional decals are important and will help you avoid situations that could result in serious injury or death. Take them seriously, and replace any damaged or missing decals.

Grease all fittings every 8 hours, and check the loader's hydraulic-fluid level every day. The backhoe won't operate properly if fluid is low.

Plan ahead Plan your day to maximize productivity at the job site:

* Select the right bucket size for the job.

* Stake out the area to be excavated and use flags to mark it.

* Always call before you dig (a nationwide, toll-free number is available that provides the phone number for your specific area; call 888-258-0808). If you don't call, you won't know about underground utilities that you could damage or disrupt. Injury, death and property damage have resulted when excavators didn't have the site marked with utility placements before they began their work.

* Never work in areas with inadequate overhead clearances.

* Check for applicable Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and with other authorities having jurisdiction for any special requirements such as using shoring equipment or digging the trench in the shape of a "V" to lessen the possibility of a cave-in. When you begin digging with your backhoe, start at one end of the trench with the machine positioned so you can move backwards as the excavation progresses. First, lower the front stabilizers, then the rear stabilizers.

When digging a trench, coordinate the action of the boom, dipper and bucket. It may take a while to get the hang of it. Every situation will be a little different, but here are a few tips:

* When digging a trench, you can set the bucket teeth at a shallow angle and let the dipper do most of the work. Or you can set the bucket teeth at a steeper angle and fill the bucket using a combination of boom and bucket action.

* Continue digging a few inches deeper each time until the trench is at the desired depth. Then move the machine backward using the following procedure:

* Raise the boom and bring it in line with the center of the loader.

* Curl the bucket and pull in the dipper.

* Retract the stabilizers.

* Press the traction-lock override button or its equivalent on your machine and slowly move the unit back a few feet from the trench. Don't move back too far, or you will decrease the maximum digging depth or run out of reach.

Dig safely As you dig, keep these safety tips in mind:

* Keep bystanders out of the swing area. * Keep your feet behind the shields at all times. * Never operate your backhoe from the ground. * The boom, dipper and bucket are very powerful and can cause serious injury or death if you don't follow proper precautions. * Stay away from overhangs or ditches and do not dig under stabilizers. * If you are working on a slope, keep the machine level. Try to dump uphill to maintain stability. * If you need to pick up an object using the backhoe, keep the load balanced. Swing the load low and slow. Keep the load close to the loader for stability. Never swing the load over anyone.

Anytime you need to leave the backhoe, lower the bucket or attachment to the ground, stop the engine, remove the ignition key and exit the backhoe.

When you are ready to drive to the next job site, make sure that you have fully raised both the front and rear stabilizers and you've put the backhoe seat into the "down" position for better visibility. Install the transport locking pin before driving to the next job.

While en route, here are some additional reminders: * Never drive the loader from the backhoe seat. Always return to the loader seat before driving the machine to a new work area to obtain the protection provided by the seat bar, seat belt and ROPS. * Avoid obstacles that could exceed the clearance between the backhoe and the ground.

* On slopes, drive the loader straight up and then back it down. Never drive across slopes.

* Check doorways, underpasses and tunnels for proper clearance.

* Before you drive a loader and backhoe up a trailer ramp, remember to disengage the backhoe-frame locking levers and raise the lift arms slightly to provide clearance between the stabilizers and the ramp. Lock the backhoe-frame locking levers after you park on the trailer deck. Also, drive the unit onto the trailer only while seated in the loader seat.

Becoming a proficient backhoe operator requires knowledge, skill and good judgment:

* Read your backhoe operation and maintenance manual.

* Pay attention and follow the safety alert symbols on the backhoe.

* Attend a training program. Many companies offer training courses. Others offer video tapes and handbooks. Contact your backhoe dealer to get more details on what is available in your area.

Paul Anderson is attachment sales & marketing manager for the Melroe Co., a unit of Ingersoll-Rand Co. (Fargo, N.D.).

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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