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Technology innovations make for safer wheel loader operation

Transparent Bucket and other technologies are enhancing employee safety at recycling facilities

A wheel loader moves a bucket of soil
The Transparent Bucket from DEVELON helps minimize blind spots for wheel loader operators when the bucket is raised. DEVELON

A wheel loader paired with a bucket carries materials at a recycling centre. A distracted employee walks in front of the machine. Thankfully, the operator is using a new technology to see through the attachment and stops before causing a serious injury.

Situations like this one – and other hazards associated with construction equipment at recycling centres – can pose significant risks to both equipment operators and workers in the area. Additional risks may include collisions, limited visibility, overturning and rollover, falling objects, and entanglements. 

To help minimize or avoid these dangers at recycling centres, the industry is stepping up its efforts to promote safety. Safety at recycling facilities remains a top priority for company owners and operators as well as manufacturers. Equipment companies are taking steps to implement new technologies that make it safer for their operators to work, especially in areas where other machines or people are working.

Wheel loaders and attachments are staple products for the recycling industry, according to Bill Zak, wheel loader product manager at DEVELON. They're critical to the continued success of many recycling facilities today because of their versatility and productivity.

"Wheel loaders rack up countless hours every day at recycling centres across the country," Zak says. "They're often put in situations where they're required to work more than 12 hours a day, performing repetitive tasks in busy environments. That's why our product management team, using input from our customers, has made it a priority to enhance the safety of our equipment."

What operators see when using the Transparent Bucket. DEVELON

"See through" bucket

Manufacturers like DEVELON are increasingly incorporating new technologies in their construction equipment. These advanced safety features, coupled with machine design changes, enhance your operators' safety and those around them. One of the recent technologies is DEVELON's Transparent Bucket, which helps minimize blind spots for wheel loader operators when the bucket is raised.

"Available as a standard feature for our -7 Series wheel loaders, the Transparent Bucket technology offers a supplemental view from a monitor inside the wheel loader cab," Zak says. "Using two cameras and stitching together the video feeds, operators can ‘see through' the bucket to the area in front of them."

Wheel loader operators can easily activate the rear-view camera and see what's behind the machine before backing up. DEVELON

Camera systems

Rear-view cameras for wheel loaders are common in today's recycling industry. Wheel loader operators can easily activate the rear-view camera and see what's behind the machine before backing up. Manufacturers are expanding their offerings with features such as around-view monitor (AVM) camera systems. 

"AVM camera systems can provide up to 270 degrees of enhanced visibility," Zak says. "Our optional AVM camera system uses three cameras and several sensors mounted on the rear of our wheel loaders. When activated, the system significantly increases the operator's visibility around the machine."

Object detection system

Another feature of the AVM camera system is notifications or alerts from an object detection system. 

"Ultrasonic proximity sensors installed on wheel loaders notify operators when an object is within a certain distance from the machine," Zak says. 

A flashing green caution box will appear if there's an object 8 to 12 feet behind the wheel loader, notifying the operator. A yellow caution box will appear if the object is 4 to 8 feet away, and the system will emit a beeping sound to provide an audio alert to operators. A red triangle and red border notification are visible if the object is closer than 4 feet.

"When wheel loader operators combine an AVM camera system with our Transparent Bucket technology, it can give them nearly 360 degrees of visibility," Zak says. 

This technology complements updated wheel loader cab designs which feature increased glass area in the front windows and the side windows for enhanced operator visibility.

Additional safety features available for the recycling industry include a standard rollover protective system for the cab and an optional backup alarm system, rotating beacon, and smart load weighing system. The weighing system tells operators the weight of the material in the bucket and helps minimize overloading the attachment. 

A feature of the AVM camera system is notifications or alerts from an object detection system. DEVELON

Operator training

None of these technologies are intended to substitute for operator training. Before employees operate a wheel loader, it's important that they have a good understanding of how the wheel loader works. Operators should familiarize themselves with the machine's operation and maintenance manual and the basic operating procedures before getting in the machine.

"We strongly recommend that all operators, particularly new ones, receive proper training before using wheel loaders," Zak says. "In addition to the manual, there are in-person training opportunities with our dealers, providing detailed instructions for how to properly operate and maintain our machines. We encourage recycling facilities to routinely coach even seasoned operators on machine operation and safety features."

At recycling facilities where operators regularly change attachments, Zak recommends that they have a clear understanding of how the attachment mounting system works. For example, when changing from a bucket to a grapple attachment, operators should know how to correctly engage the hydraulic connections and ensure that the hoses are routed correctly to minimize getting caught or snagged on the material.

From a practical standpoint, some recycling facilities equip their wheel loaders with fire extinguishers as a standard safety protocol. If your wheel loaders have fire extinguishers in them, be sure to check them regularly to make sure they are working properly. Also, be sure that your operators know how to use fire extinguishers to promptly address and contain fires if they occur.

Free online safety resources

The Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) recently introduced a free online safety toolkit to promote safety awareness, education, and training for equipment users in a variety of industries, including recycling. According to AEM, the safety toolkit provides valuable reference materials, including articles, safety education action plans, and PDF resources for toolbox talks. AEM is also providing its new safety materials in a digital format. Visit the AEM website ( to find these helpful safety materials.

New wheel loader technologies are making it safer for operators and workers at recycling facilities. Contact your local dealer to learn more about these technologies and how they can benefit your company.

Ryan Johnson is a public relations and content strategy manager at Two Rivers Marketing in Des Moines, Iowa.

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