Soil compactors stabilize soil by compressing, kneading, or vibrating it to remove air pockets and increase density. Different compactors are used depending on the type of soil. Due to weight, frequency, and force of movement, soil compactors can cause serious or fatal injuries if used improperly.

Rammers drive a metal foot into the soil with a high impact force. Vibratory plates use low force, but a high frequency movement to settle the soil. Rollers knead and compress soil with their weight and movement. Manual walk-behind rollers have smooth or padded drums. Ride-on rollers can vibrate or use heavy metal or rubber tires to compact soil. They can be small for patch jobs or large for big jobs like asphalt finishing work.

Read operating instructions and get hands-on training for each soil compactor you use. Know how to use all of the controls before you operate one. Choose the correct soil compactor for the soil type (cohesive, granular, or mix). Use machines only on stable ground. Work up or down a slope, not across it. Get training in trenching and excavation and keep away from the edges of building pits and excavations. Face toward the soil compactor’s direction of travel.

Follow manufacturer’s maintenance schedules and inspect equipment before each use. Lockout and tagout equipment before you perform maintenance. Allow machines to cool before fueling or performing work. Combustion engines emit carbon monoxide and other pollutants, so don’t operate them indoors or in a confined space.

To prevent caught/crush injuries, maintain guards on moving parts and at pinch points. Choose machines with safety bars or switches that stop the machine if the operator lets go. Use backup alarms to warn pedestrians of ride-on compactor movements. Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS) and seatbelts keep you safe. Don’t operate a soil compactor if you are a minor or under the influence of medication, drugs, or alcohol.

Extended use of a vibrating soil compactor can lead to vibration syndrome, an ergonomic injury causing damage to finger circulation and nerves. Symptoms include numbness, pain, and blanching. Soil compactor instructions include vibration level ratings and maximum usage times. Most equipment has vibration isolation technology on handles and seats. Excessive vibration may indicate poor maintenance or disrepair. Wear anti-vibration gloves if needed.

To avoid strains and sprains, maintain proper posture and a straight back when using/driving a soil compactor. Adjust steering handles/wheels to fit your height and arm length without hunching over or reaching up. Keep equipment controls close to your body with your arms at about waist height.  Compactors are heavy. Don’t lift, wiggle, or force their movement. Use loading ramps, integrated wheels, or get help when loading and unloading machines.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) like sturdy work boots protect your feet from puncture and crush injuries. Consider additional toe protection for walk-behind compactors. Work gloves protect your hands from blisters, cuts, and punctures. Safety glasses and face shields protect against flying debris and dust. Ear muffs or plugs restrict hearing loss due to loud compaction equipment. A hard hat and comfortable work clothes are always needed on construction sites. Consider a dust mask or respirator depending on the worksite and substrate being compacted.