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4 Surprising Ways Cab Design Can Impact Scrap Logger/Baler Safety

The use of heavy machinery like scrap logger/balers comes with obvious hazards. As we all know, cutting and crushing tools designed to handle cars and other scrap metal sources are particularly dangerous.

Common safety techniques such as exclusion zones, Lock-Out/Tag-Out systems, and accessible maintenance panels help control access to the most dangerous parts of the machines to keep operators, bystanders, and mechanics out of harm’s way. Other safety tools use maintenance and operational protocols to reduce risk. Regular maintenance schedules and well-trained staff can identify safety problems before they become emergencies. Keeping work spaces clean, abiding by space and ventilation requirements, and double-checking safety features on startup can all help things run safely.

While it’s important that all workers be trained in both general workplace safety and the particulars of any machinery they will be working with (or near), the first and last lines of defense are always the operators themselves. With experience, they gain deep knowledge of their machine’s normal operations, maintenance needs, and any unique handling requirements (e.g. switching from logging to baling). They have access to emergency stops and are responsible for keeping others safe while their machinery is active.

Cab design can impact operator visibility, response time, and personal safety, making it a critical (but often overlooked) way to improve safety across your operations. Meeting the needs of your operators, in turn, will empower them to keep others safe.

1. Safe Cab Access

While creating a culture of safety and attention to detail is crucial to the well-being of long-term operations, rules and protocols can get overlooked on busy days. This should not be the norm, and violations should be quickly reported so that retraining can take place.

But one way to minimize corner-cutting or other unsafe behavior even in challenging circumstances is to design processes, pathways, and machinery so that they automatically guide safer behavior. For example, to borrow an idea from urban planning, identifying “desire paths” (natural areas of high foot traffic) can show you where to install machinery to discourage shortcuts through exclusion zones. Workers, like pedestrians in cities, will often consciously or subconsciously identify the shortest path from A to B in order to save time, potentially ignoring marked paths or even barriers.

Observing habitual behaviors will give you insight as to how spaces and machinery are actually used and will allow you to make changes to improve safety and efficiency. If machinery is positioned so that “desire paths” are kept clear, workers will be less likely to veer into unsafe territory as it will require extra effort.

Climbing up and down a ladder in a variety of conditions by many different types of operators is not always the easiest way to access a cab. Here at Aljon, we design our logger/balers to use steps with rails and a platform to enter and exit the cab rather than ladders. This makes access, training, etc. extremely safe and easy for all operators.

2. Cab Controls

Modern landfill equipment typically uses a control screen in addition to a joystick to control movement. This screen should be both easy to reach and view so that the operator doesn’t have to exert additional effort by stretching or leaning.

It should also display operational safety information, such as whether baler doors are fully closed, as clearly as possible. Furthermore, hardware and software should be designed so that bale processing cannot take place unless the doors are completely shut to prevent harm to nearby workers as well as the machine itself.

These built-in safety protocols prevent user error (whether due to fatigue or negligence), reducing potential points of failure during operation. Additionally, a manual emergency stop button should be clearly visible so the operator can halt the machine should something go wrong.

3. Operator Presence Control (OPC)

As the system that provides crushing force, the hydraulics are one of the most important parts of a scrap logger/baler when it comes to safety. In addition to shutting off the engine, hydraulic energy must be released on shutdown. If it is left on (e.g. during maintenance when removing a jam), it could suddenly engage and cause an accident.

Aljon logger/baler cabs require both a key to start and the operator to be fully seated. If the operator leaves the cab (or falls or moves for any reason), the hydraulics will be deactivated and the machine shuts down. Again, automatic systems like these reduce both user error and accidents if the operator were to become incapacitated.

4. Cab Comfort & Ergonomics

While arthritis and repetitive strain injuries are not as newsworthy as dramatic accidents, ergonomic injuries can increase employee turnover as well as cause other issues like fatigue, lack of situational awareness, and reduced speed and efficiency. There is no reason for operators to end their workday exhausted, unfocused, and in unnecessary pain when better alternatives will allow you to retain skilled employees for longer.

Important considerations include:

  • Is the cab seat adjustable and designed for 6+ hours a day of sitting?
  • Are joystick controls easy-to-reach and comfortable?
  • Is the screen easily visible for operators of different heights?
  • Can you see the bale chamber, crane, and surrounding areas from the cab or is visibility limited?
  • Is the cab isolated from sources of noise and vibration such as the air compressor to aid in decision-making? Is it easy to blame an unexpected vibration on the A/C compressor activating rather than investigating the source?

Heavy equipment safety (especially in challenging environments like landfills and scrap yards) requires an overlapping system of precautions for safe, long-term operations. Robust maintenance programs, leadership that prioritizes safety protocols and PPE, and invested workers as well as operators are just as important as specific tools like Lock-Out/Tag-Out.

Cab design is just one part of the overall safety picture, but it can enhance every other aspect because it helps operators be alert, aware, and in position to keep others safe. Don’t underestimate its importance. Choose an Aljon scrap logger/baler for efficiency, power, and of couse, safety!