On guard

Features - Scrap Handling Equipment Focus

Material handler guarding options can help protect workers and critical components while they perform in scrap environments.

May 28, 2014
Brian Taylor

Owners and operations managers of scrap companies strive to provide and maintain a safe working environment, which can include investing in additional options and features when buying a scrap handler.

Even in a safe working environment, pieces of scrap can fall from a grapple or magnet in transit. This can put the scrap handler’s operator at risk and has the potential to cause damage to any exposed components.

Makers of material handlers have been aware of this potential problem for decades and have responded with a variety of solutions designed to protect people and property.

On the fly

Scrap processing machinery is not designed to send material flying through the air; but, as a recent complaint in Illinois demonstrates, it can happen.

In April of this year, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) referred an enforcement action to the state’s attorney general’s office in response to a complaint about an auto shredding plant in the Chicago area that allegedly ejected one or more pieces of metal onto an adjacent property.

While visiting the facility, the Illinois EPA says its inspector “observed objects that had allegedly been ejected from the company’s shredder onto adjacent property beyond the facility’s boundaries.” The agency says it also observed damage to a nearby structure allegedly caused by an object ejected from the shredder.

The state EPA recommended measures including “the development, implementation and submittal of a compliance plan to address projectiles and particulate matter emissions from the facility.”

Fortunately, fast-hurtling objects leaving a shredder are relatively rare, but they do present one of several potential hazards facing a worker inside a scrap handler operator’s cab.

Scrap handler operators are working amidst one or more pieces of processing machinery and also are trying to pick up and move as much loose scrap as their machine and its attachment can safely handle.

When a piece of scrap metal falls from a magnet or grapple, it may not fly at the speed of a shredder projectile, but it nonetheless can present a danger to a machine operator if he or she is sitting in a cab with an open window or unguarded, nonshatterproof glass.

Three Ps in a pod

A “Safety Point” issued by the safety division of the Washington-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) in May 2014 offers recommendations to scrap handler operators that all begin with the letter “p.”

Before mobile material handler operators rev their machines up to begin loading or unloading material, ISRI recommends they check for the following things:

1) People – “Take a walk all the way around your machine to make sure there’s nobody cleaning up near it or leaning on your wheels or tracks,” says ISRI. The organization also urges machine operators not to “rely solely on mirrors or cameras” but to turn their heads and look for pedestrians in nearby areas. “Getting run over by a piece of mobile equipment was the No. 1 way to die in a scrap yard [in 2013],” ISRI says.

2) Potholes – Ground that is not level, with obstructions that can cause sudden steering movements, can be the cause of accidents, says ISRI. The group’s safety division advises operators to know the terrain and the traffic patterns of the areas of a yard in which they are working.

3) Power lines – “OSHA says to keep at least 10 feet away from a 50,000-volt power line,” advises ISRI, but “a good rule of thumb is to simply stay as far away as possible.” The ISRI safety division recommends having “a ground man” who can advise operators when they are clear of lines. “Make sure [the ground person] is not too close to your machine. If your machine accidentally comes into contact with live electricity, he could become part of the circuit and be electrocuted,” ISRI adds.

More safety tips from ISRI on material handling and many other topics can be found at www.isri.org/safety-best-practices/isri-safety.

Andreas Ernst of scrap handler manufacturer Sennebogen LLC, Charlotte, North Carolina, says operator habits also play a role. “The main issues I have seen is with untrained and not careful operators,” says Ernst. “[Safety] is by far more the way how the operator handles the machine than the individual activity.”

He adds, though, that “handling material like pipes, I-beams or long pieces where the grapple tines have issues keeping it inside the grapple are probably the activity with the highest safety risk.”

Says Jerry Risley, a senior application engineer with Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Illinois, “Every day is different and every hour is different in a scrap yard. We try to think of the worst-case scenarios and try to prevent them from causing harm to the operator in the cab.”

Suit of armor

Because of the potential hazards in the scrap yard environment, manufacturers of hydraulic scrap handlers have designed and now offer numerous forms of guarding to protect people and machine components.

On the personnel front, the operator’s cab has, logically, received much of the safety attention.

Visitors to the exhibit hall of the 2014 Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) 2014 Convention & Exhibition, held April 6-10 in Las Vegas, had the opportunity to view scrap handling machines on display from several different manufacturers. Virtually every machine on the show floor featured operator cabs outfitted with protective vertical bars or steel wire caging on the front of the cab or on all sides.

Excavating and material handling machinery maker LBX Co., Louisville, Kentucky, describes its operator cab guarding options as including “three different front guards: a full bar guard, a mesh guard and a hinged bar guard so [machine owners] can easily clean the windshield.”

Steve Brezinski, material handler product manager with Terex Fuchs, Southaven, Mississippi, says “guarding is typically optional equipment and purchased at an additional cost,” but he adds that very few recyclers choose to be without this form of protection for their employees.

“We are seeing a trend of more companies requesting these safety features,” he comments. “Although they are not standard equipment, in many instances guards are added and stocked by equipment distributors. However,” Brezinski adds, “the final decision is up to the buyer.”

In addition to guarding, manufacturers such as Liebherr, with U.S. headquarters in Newport News, Virginia, tout cabs made of “robust steel” and safety glass that offers additional protection to the occupant.

Liebherr also offers a feature designed to prevent an attachment or its contents from getting too close to the operator's cabin. "Liebherr offers an automatic proximity switch, which prevents the working attachment from being positioned too close to the operator’s cabin, as standard equipment on all current scrap handlers," says Paul Hill, a senior product manager with the company.

Beyond the armor, manufacturers also have taken steps to try to prevent falls and other hazards that can be encountered by those working to maintain, repair or simply climb into a scrap handler. Machines also are increasingly designed with a hydraulic lift-and-lower cab option that can bring the cab down to ground level for the operator to enter and exit.

A model MH3037 scrap handler on display in the Caterpillar exhibit area at the 2014 ISRI Convention & Exposition featured a textured metal surface designed to prevent slips and falls on parts of the machine likely to be stepped on by operators and service personnel.

The machine also featured work lights (covered in steel wire guarding) designed to provide a better and safer work environment for maintenance personnel serving the scrap handler during nondaylight hours.

As another way to cut down on slip-and-fall accidents, manufacturers also have increasingly configured the placement of engines and of oil and hydraulic systems so service personnel can gain access to commonly maintained areas at ground level.

The federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), in a 2008 publication called “Guidance for the Identification and Control of Safety and Health Hazards in Metal Scrap Recycling,” addresses machine guarding in the context of protecting vulnerable machine components and systems. “Employers must consider equipping vehicles with guarding to protect any vulnerable brake lines from incidental damage during operation,” the guide reads.

“We’re trying to protect the operator first and foremost but also the components,” says Risley. “Safety is first and foremost to scrap processors, and machine reliability is No. 2 on the priority list.”

Brake lines are not the only high-risk or high-cost component that machine designers have been working to protect.

Cut prevention

As the very name “hydraulic scrap handler” implies, the hydraulic system plays several critical functions in a scrap handling machine.

A hydraulic hose that is accidentally severed in the course of work may not only put a machine quickly out of commission, it also could expose the operator to danger in the form of a lost load or a suddenly off-balance machine.

Those reasons have prompted manufacturers of scrap handlers to take particular care in incorporating design features to protect hydraulic hoses. "On all Liebherr material handlers, hoses are routed through the inside of the stick to protect against this type of (cutting) occurence," says the company's Hill.

The Caterpillar MH3037 on display at the ISRI 2014 Convention & Exposition featured “load-lock valves” on all hydraulic cylinders. According to Jeremy Middleton, an alliance account manager with Caterpillar, the valves are designed to prevent “sudden boom movements” in the case of a hydraulic system failure caused by a severed line or any other reason.

Hydraulic lines on the MH3037, as with scrap handlers currently built by the majority of manufacturers, often are protected by sheet metal or otherwise kept from open exposure to the scrap yard environment. Manufacturers also are employing new materials in their quest to protect the complete hydraulics system of scrap handlers.

Ernst of Sennebogen says his company is “making sure that the exposed hoses in front of the stick are protected by covers. These hoses, plus the hoses connecting the grapple to the machine, are the highest concern as they are close to the material.”

Brezinski says Terex Fuchs “designs and equips our material handler boom and sticks with a combination of rigid pipes that help reduce the risk of exposure to the elements and work environment.”

Another option, he says, are “flexible hoses that are predominantly located in areas that flex or bend. In addition, we include protective plating around lines.”

The material handlers deployed at scrap yards are increasingly equipped with an array of features (some visible, like a cab surrounded by a steel wire cage, and others less visible, like hidden hydraulic hoses) that are designed to improve the industry’s safety record and keep material handlers on the job with a minimum of component damage.

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.