This will be a long-winded read, there is a lot of information to convey. I’ve tried to address your initial questions as presented. There is a lot that I’ve left out. But of all the information offered, Human Factors would be the one area to keep foremost in your mind.
First; an Operating Engineer is any person who is running a piece of equipment (tractor with backhoe, dozer, grader, roller, paving machine, etc.). They may not even be aware of it, but their job description is, "operating engineer’. Engineer is used in the old sense; a person in charge of engines (ships, locomotive, etc.). Engine n. 1) a mechanical contrivance, esp. as a source of power. That said I’m sure there are a lot of them near you that you can glean more information and opinions from.
Second; I’ve searched for my original post and don’t seem to be able to locate it… do you remember where it was?
MSA; Mine Safety Appliances, is the largest manufacturer of safety equipment.
Peltor is a company that is leading in the area of industrial communication AND safety equipment. Initially I would suggest that you take a look at their website;
In particular see:
Products > Communication Programs
Products > Safety Program
Be sure to download the PDF files in each heading; they contain more images than the web pages themselves.
1) Working Demands:
It’s a stressful, dangerous (big equipment near people on the ground) outdoor job; dust, rain, snow, heat. Communications regarding equipment and material movement is necessary; i.e. the operator of a grader removes the amount of earth that the “grade checker” on the ground indicates to him/her by hand signals. The industry standard signal “stop” is two clenched fists (knuckles toward the intended receiver). When you see it in your brain you hear it “yelled”; !STOP!. It could be a matter of life or death, or the guy just wants to tell you something.
2) Working Conditions and
3) Physical Demands
Heat: fatique contributes to a loss of attention which in turn, contributes to accidents. Headphone type hearing protection and helmets decrease the amount of skin surface available for cooling; and in the most critical part of the anatomy, the head.
Cold: while easier to deal with than extremes of heat creates problems of it’s own. It’s harder to move your head around to see what is around you. Heavy gloves reduce your sensitivity to controls. My eyes water a lot in the cold creating reduced visibility.
Visibility: 360 degree, hemi-spherical visibility is critical. Anything that interferes with the operator’s awareness of his/her immediate vicinity places personnel (first) and equipment (second) safety at risk. Your head is on a swivel, constantly looking in front, behind, up and down. Experienced operators take mental snap shots of the people around them; you get to the point where you know some is supposed to be without actually seeing them. If they do not appear “on time” you instinctively stop.
Pollution: Engine exhaust, hazardous materials (fuel, contaminates in the soil) and airborne particulates contribute to damaged vision and respiratory ailments.
Ultra Violet light causes cataracts in long time operators if they do not wear safety and/or sunglasses.
Noise: Some machines develop over 600 horsepower and the exhaust stack is five feet away from your head. 100+ decibel Ievels are not uncommon, resulting in permanent hearing damage for long term operators, and loss of communication with ground personnel (the partial reason for hand signals. As with loud concert music, where you feel the music vibrating your guts, exhaust noise does the same thing.
Vibration: Most heavy equipment does not have a suspension system which results in a lot of bouncing and jarring. Engine vibration transmits through seats, hand, and foot controls.
DVT; deep vein thrombosis (blood clots); sitting for long periods of time (like on long flights, professional drivers, etc) are susceptible to the development of blood clots.
Operating heavy equipment is traditionally a male occupation. Macho is the key word. Typical mentality is:
I don’t NEED safety equipment - I don’t WANT to use safety equipment.
If it is uncomfortable I won’t use it - If it looks funny I won’t wear it.
Hot Dogs: those who operate equipment at the extreme edge of a machine’s capability. They extract the maximum amount of work that a machine can produce but may do so in an unsafe manner. It is an ‘admired’ trait (time is money).
However, in the construction industry emphasis on safety is changing drastically. Being the lowest bidder on a project isn’t the only prerequisite to winning the job. A company’s safety record is becoming a major element. Like everything else, a construction project must be insured and if your company has a record of accidents you’re not going to win the job.
Again, male dominant, but as with everyone else, interests are diverse.
In the US a lot of OEs come from farming and ranching backgrounds so outdoor activity is a primary one; hunting, fishing, camping, motorcycle riding, automobile racing, professional sports. I grew up near the ocean so sailing is mine.
But what they all share in common is an interest in BIG machines and their operation. A typical conversation involves the use of lots of numbers and letters: CS563C, 657, 966, D9, D11 … machine names. Like saying you drive a Volkswagen Jetta, if I told another operator I was running a Cat 957E, he’d know I was operating an Open Bowl Scraper manufactured by the Caterpillar company. And if he didn’t, he wouldn’t let on that he didn’t.