A KEANE EYE: Site dumpers come of age

They evolved a lot overseas, but by then they were rarely seen in Australia. Some more modern machines entered the country through the grey market – notably the Nikken dumpers from Japan that became popular for rail work – but they were not the sort of machine you would have backed to be sold new in Australia.Even now you can’t exactly call them a runaway success, but at least the market is starting to find out what they can be used for and to buy new machines. In simplistic terms, they are no different from any other dump truck: you fill them, they take the fill somewhere else and then you dump the load. They’re just a different size to what we are used to.When the largest of the site dumpers can handle a 10-tonne load, you realise they are not toys: they can certainly move dirt. But they’re a lot more compact than a highway tipper that can move the same payload. The dump body generally has a broad mouth that tapers at the bottom, so it provides a large target area for a mini excavator or skid steer to load. They really are a much better alternative to a wheel loader bucket for shuttling materials around a site.Sydney-based company Pomaus has made inroads in the market with the UK Barford brand of dumper, while Semco (Sydney) handles the Italian Fiori brand and Clark equipment handles the Spanish Ausa brand. The UK and Spain are the biggest users of site dumpers in the world.Over the years the dumpers have picked up some more tricks: the dump bodies can be mounted on a turntable to allow discharge over the side for backfill, or where the access road is too narrow to allow the truck to be backed in; and smaller dumpers can often be fitted with a scissor lift arrangement to raise the dump height for discharge into a skip or small truck.The dumpers have also picked up more refinement with ROPS frames and even enclosed cabs on some, more power and mobility, and even rotating operator stations so that the driver can face in the direction of travel.However, it is time to introduce a sobering note. The Health and Safety Executive in the UK notes that site dumpers account for around a third of construction transport accidents, and that these can result in serious injury and death. It’s not so much the machine as how it is used, but in Australia it would be good to take note of this and introduce controls – many of which are common sense and should apply to use of other types of equipment – to ensure that the UK experience is not replicated here.One of the hazards is overturning on slopes and rough ground, or when travelling too close to the edge of an excavation. There is a need to maintain haul routes to minimise potholes, ruts, etc, and to plan the route to avoid slopes where possible, and if unavoidable, to ensure that slopes are within the manufacturer’s guidelines and that speed is reduced.With the power of the modern machines, it is important that operators are aware that speed needs to be adjusted to the conditions. With high-lift machines, it’s important to ensure that the ground where the body is raised from is firm and level.Operators have been known to be thrown from vehicles operating over rough ground, so a retractable seat belt seems like a sensible investment. A ROPS is only effective if the operator stays on the machine.With dumpers likely to operate in confined spaces where foot traffic is present, it is best to separate foot traffic from routes used by dumpers as running over pedestrians is a hazard highlighted by overseas experience. Ensuring that the dumper is not overloaded and operator vision is not obscured are other important preventive measures.As many of these machines are likely to be placed via the rental market, it is important that hirers clearly highlight the potential hazards to users, and that training in the controls is thorough, as accidental operation of controls has also been highlighted as a hazard overseas. There is a tendency by some to see apparently simple equipment like rollers and site dumpers as low-risk machinery that an inexperienced operator can be placed on without great risk. However, each machine has its own set of risks that needs to be pointed out to users and operators, and supported by site design and controls. Complacency is the real killer.

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