Designing And Operating For Telehandler Safety

Designing And Operating For Telehandler Safety

Words: Mitch Fedie, Product Manager Pettibone/Traverse Lift LLC
Photos: Pettibone

Telehandlers are among the most indispensable pieces of construction equipment you’ll see on a masonry jobsite. Whether moving mortar tubs or placing palletized loads at height, telehandlers offer the versatility to handle numerous tasks with various attachments.

While telehandlers are obviously useful, it’s important to remember they are also powerful and heavy machines, and safe operation is critical at all times. Many factors contribute to safe telehandler use, including the design of the machine, choosing a model with ample capacity, proper operator training, and routine maintenance.

Smooth Hydraulics

The first telehandlers were developed over 50 years ago, and their design has gradually evolved to keep improving safety, productivity and uptime. Today’s leading telehandlers are engineered to give the operator full confidence in the machine, whether they are a regular user of a telehandler they own or utilizing a rented unit.

A big factor in comfort level for the operator is the smoothness of the hydraulic controls. A high-quality hydraulic circuit will provide an intuitive feel and eliminate jerky movements when lifting and landing loads. Lifting tasks are greatly simplified when using single joystick, pilot operated controls that cover all boom functions. 

Another recent design trend is cushioning the cylinder to dampen the end of strokes, both when extending and retracting the boom, to help prevent the potential spilling of a load. This feature also reduces machine wear-and-tear by eliminating hard, jarring stops. Users can also benefit from frame leveling capability, where a sway cylinder automatically balances the load on the forks as the machine travels across rough terrain.

There’s also the matter of machine stability and the resulting “pants in the seat” feel that allows the operator to feel secure even when pushing the telehandler to its top reach or full load capacities. Precision engineering is critical to providing peace of mind when handling materials on masonry jobs.

Clear Visibility

Another key component for equipment operator comfort and overall jobsite safety is visibility. Some telehandler manufacturers will tout their visibility from the cab, only for those clear views to be diminished once the machine is actually put into a working condition.

The main blind spot for a telehandler operator is the area looking back toward the curbside, so the best-designed machines are naturally oriented to dramatically increase visibility in that particular area. It’s common for telehandlers to have a side-mounted engine, but there is a fine line between where the engine positioning does or does not allow adequate curbside visibility.

Telehandlers that feature a single lift cylinder, rather than double cylinders, typically have better sight lines to the rear. Another issue is that many machines have an extra set of slave cylinders near the pin where the boom is hinged, which can create a vision obstacle. Machine designs that do not require slave cylinders provide a more open rear view.

Back-up cameras and object detection sensors are becoming more popular accessories to enhance visibility-related safety. Still, it’s very important to allow the operator to see firsthand when maneuvering on a masonry construction site. Having clear sightlines all around the machine makes a huge difference in confidence and efficiency.

Operator Training

Telehandlers are powerful and heavy pieces of equipment. Elevating loads to the height and distance these machines can attain requires a trained and observant operator. There is always a chance that the unit’s combined center of gravity will shift, creating a risk of overturning the machine when not operated in a proper and safe manner. Displaced loads and falling objects are a hazard to bystanders on the jobsite as well.

Today’s telehandlers trend toward simple, intuitive designs that help operators of any experience level to become proficient in a short manner. Nevertheless, proper training is important for everyone, from operators to service technicians, so that everybody who handles the machine has proper instruction for both using and maintaining it. Dealers and manufacturers can assist with general product training, detailed service training and operator certification.

Landing Loads Safely

Certain styles of telehandlers can prove more advantageous than others. Long-time users of the popular Lull brand of telehandlers are familiar with the concept of the horizontal traversing boom, a feature now only offered to the market on Pettibone Traverse telehandlers. 

Unlike a traditional fixed boom telehandler, the tower portion to which the boom is attached slides forward on a Traverse model. The traversing carriage is mounted to the chassis with a series of slide pads and pulled forward or pushed back with a hydraulic cylinder.

With this traversing capability, an operator can simply and safely place a load on the target landing, release the contact of the forks, and traverse the carriage backward to disengage the forks. With a fixed boom, the operator must coordinate several motions of the controls to withdraw the forks from the payload, leading to intermittent contact with the load or the landing. 

The practical result of this is that a traditional machine actually loses about three feet of its specified lift height, whereas a traversing machine is capable of landing a load at the telehandler’s maximum lift height. 

Additionally, a traversing unit does not need to physically drive back and forth on during the landing process. Because the boom itself slides forward and back to place the load, the machine can simply be driven into its desired position and remain there, helping to avoid potential hazards that could arise while driving back and forth, particularly on a rough terrain jobsite.

Mason contractors in particular have long enjoyed the benefits of these telehandlers. The added precision and reduced load movement makes these machines ideal for moving mud buckets full of mortar without spilling, or for landing a load of concrete blocks without disturbing the stack. By keeping operating maneuvers to a minimum and avoiding jerky movements, sliding boom units are less likely to ever compromise a load.

The Right Fit

Having the proper power and length for the job at hand is a critical step in choosing a telehandler. While some users may not be planning to lift extremely heavy loads very often, it’s important to consult a machine’s lift chart to ensure there is ample capacity available to safely handle the anticipated loads as the telehandler is boomed farther up and out.

A 9,000-pound-capacity telehandler with 44-foot lift height may be capable of tackling the majority of a contractor’s jobs; however, when working at increased heights or when needing extra reach to operate from a street-side position, a 10,000- or 12,000-pound machine and/or a higher-reaching 56-foot unit may be necessary to accommodate the de-rating of the boom as it extends out with a load.

Telehandler Maintenance

Telehandler safety conversations usually focus on operation, but servicing the machine is also important. Simple daily procedures like checking engine oil, transmission fluid, air filters, tire pressure, and keeping the machine greased greatly help ensure the longevity of the machine and avoid more serious and costly repairs.

Between jobs, perform regular maintenance and simple visual inspections. Make sure the wear pads are in the correct spec to ensure smooth boom travel. Check hydraulic hoses for leaks. Maximize your investment and ensure it’s always safe to use by keeping it in good working order.

Telehandler manufacturers have done their part to improve serviceability. New boom designs allow faster changing of wear pads and service hoses. Grease points and filters are more accessible. In some cases, the machine will feature an all-steel dash and components, allowing for someone to simply take a pressure washer and hose down the inside the cab without any fuss.

Telematics has emerged as a key technology for telehandlers. This important development has allowed equipment owners to constantly monitor anything service-related on the machine with a computer or smartphone app. 

With real-time access to the status of a telehandler, many potential issues can be caught and avoided before they happen. Maintenance alerts can cover anything from checking battery voltage, to getting warnings for low DEF levels, to remotely diagnosing an engine error code.

Re-Emphasizing Safety

Elevating heavy loads to the height and distance that telehandlers can attain requires an observant operator and a machine in proper operating condition. Always take the time to understand and follow the manufacturer’s safe operating guidelines to ensure productivity and safety for all involved.

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