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Excavators: managing the risk

Where excavators are used on site it is important that pedestrians are separated from vehicles and that hazard-free traffic routes are made available.

Most accidents involving excavators occur when the excavator is:


  • Moving and strikes a pedestrian, particularly while reversing;
  • Slewing trapping a person between the excavator and a fixed structure or vehicle; or
  • Working when the moving bucket or other attachment strikes a pedestrian or when the bucket inadvertently falls from the excavator.

Smaller digger pic

In order to control the risks it is important to select the right excavator for the job. The five main precautions to take are:

  • Exclusion  People should be kept away from areas of excavator operation by the provision of suitable barriers.
  • Clearance When slewing in a confined area the selection of plant with minimal tail swing is preferred. Clearance of over 0.5m needs to be maintained between any part of the machine and the nearest obstruction.
  • Visibility  Excavators with the best view around them from the driver position should be selected. Excavators should be equipped with adequate visibility aids to ensure drivers can see areas where people may be at risk from the operation of the machine.
  • Signaller  A signaller should be provided in a safe position to direct excavator operation and any pedestrian movements.
  • Bucket attachment  Quick hitches can be used to secure buckets to the excavator arm. Care should be taken to ensure the bucket doesn’t fall from the machine. If the quick hitch is fitted with a safety retaining pin it is essential that this is fitted after the bucket has been changed.

Training and competence

  • Drivers – should be trained, competent and authorised to operate the specific excavator. Training certificates from recognised schemes help demonstrate competence and certificates should be checked for validity;
  • Signallers should be trained, competent and authorised to direct excavator movements; and
  • Pedestrians – should be instructed in safe pedestrian routes on site and the procedure for making drivers aware of their presence.

Inspection and maintenance

Drivers should be encouraged to report defects or problems by a simple pre-start checklist. Reported problems should be put right quickly and the excavator taken out of service if the item is safety critical.

Excavators are covered by the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations and so need to be subject to an appropriate maintenance regime and inspected at regular intervals by a competent person.

If the excavator is used for lifting it must also be subject to a thorough examination under the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations. Additional safety features would need fitting including a boom lowering device and acoustic warning device if lifting was to be an intended use.

For any further advice or if you would like to discuss any training requirements, please contact Rachel Hamill on 01302 341 344.


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