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CRITICAL SAFETY TASKS FOR LOADING AND UNLOADING
HEAVY ENGINEER EQUIPMENT
by MSG Forrest L. Prude, Jr.

Combat heavy engineer equipment platoons and combat support equipment (CSE) platoons deploy to the National Training Center (NTC) with high expectations of fulfilling all their mission requirements. And if all their mission requirements are met--if, for example, they dig 70 turret-defilade positions and dig two kilometers of anti-tank ditches during the final, live-fire defense--they are usually credited with having executed a successful NTC rotation. BUT all their success is for naught if one heavy engineer equipment accident occurs.

Safe operation of heavy engineer equipment does not attract the same notice as the number of survivability positions dug or the length of anti-tank ditches made; but if safety is sustained, it can prevent serious injury or death, and expensive repair work for damaged equipment. Over the past 22 rotations, the author observed several safety violations during the operation of heavy engineer equipment and while units loaded and unloaded vehicles onto M870 lowboy trailers. This article reviews observations and offers recommendations to reduce safety risks.

D7 Bulldozer Operation

OBSERVATIONS:

a. Operators do not habitually ground both the blade and the ripper of the D7 bulldozer before dismounting the vehicle. Grounding all attachments prevents accidents that could occur if an attachment hydraulic system (i.e., seals or hydraulic hoses) fails and the assembly falls to the ground.

b. Operators do not lock the bulldozer tracks prior to dismounting. On steep terrain, this safety violation, along with not grounding attachments, can lead to serious accidents.

c. Operators do not always wear seatbelts. If a rollover occurs, serious operator injury is likely if the operator is not wearing a seatbelt. Fortunately, in the several rollover incidents that have occurred at the NTC, the operators were NOT seriously injured because they were wearing seatbelts.

d. Observer/controllers (O/Cs) have had to stop bulldozers with two soldiers in the cab. The second soldier usually rides on the hydraulic tank, unsecured, where he can easily slip and fall onto moving tracks.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Include more operator training at Home Station before deploying to the NTC.
  • Review safety films and develop a safety SOP for dozer operators.
  • Leaders must supervise operators and ensure dozer operators practice safe operating procedures. Leader
  • involvement is important during the daylight and absolutely critical at night.
  • Make equipment operations a major part of the safety brief and risk assessment.
  • Establish the following four-step drill for operators dismounting a D7--include them in the safety SOP:
    • Lower the rippers to the ground.
    • Lower the blade and put it in the "float" position.
    • Lock the tracks.
    • Unbuckle the seatbelt.

General Downloading and Uploading of Heavy Equipment

Two of the most common tasks for an engineer equipment operator are uploading and downloading engineer vehicles on an M870, 40-ton lowboy trailer. Based on O/C observations at the NTC, execution of these tasks requires improvement.

Throughout training at the NTC, soldiers encounter situations requiring improvisation to get the mission accomplished. If the primary plan fails, it is essential that they have alternate plans. Soldiers can still get the mission accomplished if they improvise safely and properly. The author observed the following situations during several rotations and offers some recommended actions to take.

Use of Terrain
OBSERVATION: Operators often download equipment on slopes or terrain that is not suitable for downloading. Downloading equipment on terrain with steep slopes increases the potential for damage to the fifth wheel or kingpin, as well as to the hinges on the trailers. Unloading equipment from trailers parked on a slope also puts the operator at the risk of sliding off the sides of the trailer. This is extremely dangerous in rain or at night.
RECOMMENDATION: Never unload equipment on slopes or terrain that is not suitable for downloading.

Use of Ground Guides
OBSERVATION: Operators often unload equipment without the aid of a ground guide or with only one ground guide who cannot see what is happening on the other side of the trailer.
RECOMMENDATION: Use at least two ground guides to load equipment safely: one soldier to observe from the front and another soldier posted at the rear of the trailer. The guides need to stand far enough away from the trailer to observe safely and to be in sight of the operator so that he can see their hand and arm signals (or flashlights).

Gear and Equipment
OBSERVATION: Operators often forget to retrieve their gear and equipment, leaving it on the vehicle or trailer.
RECOMMENDATION: It is very important to conduct pre-combat checks and inspections (PCCs/PCIs) throughout every mission. PCCs/PCIs will ensure load plans are in place and will eliminate any loose gear and equipment on the rear of trailers. Develop, train, and enforce a good load plan to prevent delay of the mission by using additional time for loading equipment.

Seat Belts
OBSERVATION: Seat belts are often not worn when loading or unloading heavy equipment.
RECOMMENDATION: Supervisors must supervise to ensure the safety of soldiers and equipment. Make sure the equipment operators are wearing seat belts. In the event that a rollover does occur (and there have been several rollover incidents at NTC), a seat belt might prevent serious injury and save a soldier's life.

Downloading Equipment without a Winch
OBSERVATION: Often the M916 tractor-trailer winch becomes inoperative or the PTO fails to engage, preventing the trailer from being lowered down.
RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Supervisors must find terrain that is level enough to keep the pressure off of the fifth wheel and hinges on the trailer.
  • If possible, back the rear of the trailer against a berm to download equipment off the trailer.
  • Have at least two ground guides, one at the front and one at the rear.
  • Make sure all debris is cleared off the trailer and the area near the download site is clear of personnel and equipment.
  • Make sure the operator is wearing a seat belt.

CONCLUSION

The safety tasks presented here are important, and all operators must be properly trained to accomplish them correctly. Soldiers too often take shortcuts--they forget the right way and the safe way to complete the tasks. As leaders, we must ensure our soldiers do NOT take shortcuts when it comes to safety. Demand that tasks be done correctly, and significantly reduce the risk of injury to soldiers or damage to equipment.


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