Ian Mitchell, a former Senior Training Technician at Cutting Edge Training, now runs his own training company. In this article for his former employer, he looks at that much maligned item of equipment - the Operator's Instruction Book - and its importance to the safe operation of outdoor power equipment
One glance at the title of this piece and you'll probably be tempted to turn the page, but please don't. It could save you from serious injury at worse, and major inconvenience at best.
It sounds like common sense but, as an operator of outdoor power equipment, you should always read the operator's instruction book (commonly referred to as 'The Manual') before operating a piece of equipment for the first time. Of course it's common sense, but how many of us actually do it? Once you're actually operating the equipment, the book should always be near at hand, so that you can get additional information on settings and adjustments, as and when you need it.
Here are my Top 10 tips when it comes to using the manual.
Safe operation of the machine has to be paramount. All CE machinery has yellow safety warning decals and many display blue and white safety warnings as well. Any blue and white warning is mandatory, so make sure you pay attention to them, if nothing else. If you don't read the manual, you probably won't understand all the hazards associated with a piece of machinery. Finding out afterwards could be too late! As I go about my business training operators on the safe use equipment, it is amazing how many do not fully understand what the decals signify.
2. Dimensions and weights
On a ride-on mower, tractor without cab or small excavator, do you know how high it is with the ROPS frame in the up position, or its height with it lowered? What is the working width or the transport width? Can it be transported on your trailer legally, without taking you over the legal train weight? What is the turning circle, and how wide is the outside swing on full lock? All the answers to these questions, and many more, will be found in the Operator's Instruction Book, so it's not really necessary to ring up the supplying dealer or the manufacturer to find out.
You'll be surprised how often this happens!
3. PPE Requirements
The Personal Protective Equipment required for the safe operation of the machine will be identified in the Operator's Instruction Book. It is most important to remember that any PPE identified by a blue and white decal is mandatory. PPE is there for your protection, not anyone else's, so do review your risk assessment requirements when taking a new piece of equipment out to work.
4. Noise at the operator's ear
This was covered in detail in issue 63, but it doesn't hurt to stress that noise levels are key to operator safety and, by law, noise exposure has to be controlled. Hand held machines will have a single noise level, whilst larger machinery, and those with cabs, may well have two noise levels quoted in the manual - the bystander noise level and noise at the operator's ear, which may be significantly lower. Hearing protection which is appropriate for the actual task can then be supplied.
5. Vibration Levels
There are two measurements which will be quoted in the Operator's Instruction Book. HAV (hand & arm vibrations) for hand held tools and steering controls, and WBV (whole body vibrations) for machinery with seating and footplate areas. As with noise, there are maximum levels (2.5 m/s2) which must not be exceeded, making the information in the manual essential, as part of the overall risk assessment.
How fast does it go? What is the fuel consumption, what is the tank capacity? What is the safe working angle? How much work will it do in a day? What pressure should the tyres be? What viscosity oil should we use? How do I adjust the seat? Yes, of course, all this and more is listed in the Operator's Instruction Book.
7. Controls and switches
Modern machinery increasingly uses digital display screens, with multi-function screens and detailed menus. There is no way you are going to know how to use this unless you refer to the Operator's Instruction Book. As well as the display screen, multi-function joy sticks and automatic parking brakes can all throw up problems for the operator, many of which can be resolved, just be reading the manual.
As a trainer, I have seen the stunned faces of operators, who realise - sometimes after several years of operation - that the Grammer seat they use every day has three height settings, as well as the more obvious weight adjustment.
I also see machinery with weight-transfer, or traction control systems, which are never used, because they are not understood or correctly adjusted. How many machines get stuck on wet days because the operator does not know how to use all the controls?
8. Safety interlocks
Interlock systems are built into machinery with one specific aim - to prevent accidents. They stop the cutting units when the operator leaves the seat; they prevent the engine from starting when the operator is not in the seat, or if the parking brakes and transmission are not in neutral, they prevent starting the engine with PTO drives engaged. Every manufacturer develops their own system to meet the required safety regulations, and there may also be variations between different models from the same manufacturer. All interlocks should be checked daily, but many never are. The Operator's Instruction Book will detail exactly what interlocks each machine has and how they interact with each other.
9. Daily checks
Every engine should have its oil level checked before it is started. Radiator coolant should also be checked. Air intake screens and sometime the radiator itself must be checked. There may also be air filters and other essential checks, depending on the machine type and the application. All the expected checks will be listed in the Operator's Instruction Book, and there will be drawings or photographs to assist with identifying where the check points are. Every grease point will be clearly identified, so there is no excuse for not finding them!
10. Settings and adjustments
Today's modern outdoor power equipment is becoming more complex, with an ever-increasing range of settings and adjustments, many of which are designed to allow the operator to get the most out of the machine in different environments. Some of these are mechanical adjustments using spanners and, increasingly, they are software adjustments to the operating system using joy sticks and buttons in set sequences. It is imperative to have the trusty Operator's Instruction Book to remind you how to do these correctly and successfully.
So, that's it; my top 10 tips for using the Operator's Instruction Book. If you've read this, you'll understand that I'm passionate about this much maligned tool.
Now, all I can ask is that you take your Operator's Instruction Book out of the wrapper and read it! And, if you don't understand some of it, get the supplying dealer to explain it to you on their next visit.