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21 tips for safer winter equipment operation

Updated: Mar 15

In colder climates, winter presents a special set of challenges to heavy equipment operators. To help you operate safely and prevent damage to your machines, we've assembled a helpful list of 21 best practices you should remember when starting and using them in cold weather:

Engine 1. Fueling in cold weather requires extra care to avoid water and other contaminants from entering your machine's fuel tank. 2. Fuel, air and hydraulic filters need to be maintained for easier starting and to avoid power loss during equipment operation.

Battery 3. The use of jumper cables under cold conditions is always a concern. Improper use, like accidental reverse polarization hookup, can cause extensive electrical system damage. 4. Attempting to charge a frozen battery will almost always cause the battery to explode.

Starting 5. The storing, handling and use of highly volatile ether starting aids in pressurized cans is always a concern. Improper use of ether can cause an engine to seize while cranking and bend valve stems or worse. 6. When two or more people are involved in jump starting situations vigilance is critical. Discuss the process to be followed before attempting a jump start because once the engine starts, the person in the cab won't be able to hear you.

Warm-up 7. All hoses and wires become more brittle and stressed in extreme cold conditions. Allow sufficient warm-up time before putting equipment to work. 8. Hydraulics can be warmed more quickly by causing the relief valve to open intermittently by holding a control valve after the cylinder comes to the end of the stroke.

Operation 9. Before cold weather arrives, check to make certain all atmospheric system such as operator compartment heaters and defrosting devices, are working in top condition. Don't wait until the first cold snap to check this, or you may discover that you don't have heat in the cab! 10. When you're operating your machine during inclement winter weather, be sure you can see clearly out of the cab windows. They can become icy or fogged up easily at this time of year, reducing visibility and making it hard for you to see nearby obstructions, other machines and laborers working on the ground. 11. Both tracked and rubber-tired equipment that may have frozen to the ground are subject to severe damage, such as torn tires or extreme drive train damage. Parking equipment on a raised surface like planks or old tires helps overcome this issue. 12. Raising ground contact devices like buckets and blades off the ground on planks or other supports helps avoid strain or potential damage during start up. 13. Ground conditions will always be more difficult when the surface is frozen. Wheels and tracks can slip more easily on frozen or icy ground, potentially causing the machine to collide with other equipment, structures or people or even tip over. 14. Reduce your ground speed to maintain control of your machine and reduce the shock of impacts on brittle ground contact surfaces, such as cutting edges. 15. Know your job site. Snow can easily hide obstructions that may puncture a tire or damage a machine's tracks or undercarriage. 16. If you're working near a body of water, be especially careful, because ice may be hidden under the snow. The ice may not be thick enough to support the weight of your equipment, because snow insulates the ice from cold air and reduces deep freezing. 17. Be realistic about production in cold weather. Deep frost can make digging very difficult, and can put a lot of strain on your machine's components. 18. Remember that during winter, frozen ground often contains more water than normal. If this material is used for fill, the spring thaw will create muddy conditions that could cause sinkholes to form.

Protect yourself 19. Take extra care when entering and exiting your machine, to prevent injury. Steps, grip plates and grab holds can be slippery during snowy or icy conditions. 20. Keep the job site clean and well organized, to reduce or eliminate opportunities for slips, trips and falls. These hazards are always present in normal weather, but can be even more dangerous during the winter. When in doubt, remove snow cover before beginning site work. 21. Touching extremely cold metal surfaces with bare skin can cause instant frost damage to hands. Be sure to use insulated gloves when entering or exiting your machine and when you're checking its components. Be safe and always vigilant for job site hazards. And remember: Safety is everyone's responsibility. If you see a potentially unsafe operating condition, it's up to you to report it to your site superintendent, so it can be addressed immediately. Failure to do so could lead to injury or death, especially during harsh winter weather conditions. - Ray Peterson and Unknown Interested in learning more? See: our online training Operation and Safety courses for different vehicles. 

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