Hydrodemolition robots are growing in popularity thanks to their ability to quickly and effectively remove concrete during repair and renovation projects. An added benefit of these remote-controlled robots is that they help keep the operator out of harm’s way. However, hydrodemolition robots, like all equipment, require careful operation to avoid accidents.
Here are a few of the most important safety points contractors should remember when operating a hydrodemolition robot:
1. Operate safely
No one except the operator should be within 35 feet (10 meters) of the machine during operation. The operator should stand at least 3.2 feet (1 meter) away, staying constantly aware of the water jets. Also, operators should be sure to wear a helmet, ear protection, safety glasses, face protection, steel-toed boots, gloves and a safety jacket and pants. While the proper equipment is critical, it’s important to remember that even protective clothing will not shield from direct contact with a high-pressure jet. In case of injury, seek medical attention immediately.
While some machines include an auto function that allows the robot to run without constant operator input, the equipment and remote should never be left unattended.
2. Never work alone
One operator can easily control a single hydrodemolition robot, but there should be at least one other worker used as a spotter watching for safety hazards and monitoring other equipment. Having a spotter is a best practice for ensuring safety, as this person can quickly come to the operator’s aid if there’s an accident.
3. Carefully watch equipment
The spotter should also be charged with watching the pump and water hose for safety hazards. For example, if the robot malfunctions and stops moving yet continues to shoot water, it will eventually break through the surface. In this situation, the second worker can stop the water flow by shutting off the pump. To speed up this process, look for a robot operated with a remote that includes a pump shutdown option.
Operators also need to watch the water hose. As a result of the high pressure, even small leaks will shoot out of the hose at a similar velocity as the water shoots out of the robot. This could cause serious injury to anyone caught in the stream. In an effort to avoid these accidents, some robots will automatically shut down if pressure starts to drop. Contractors can check for hose leaks with a piece of wood or other material, but never with their hands.
4. Be mindful of the other side of the surface
Block off the other side of a surface before operation. The high-pressure water can carry debris for some distance at high speeds if the water jets break through to the other side of the working area. Also turn off, secure or avoid any utilities within the concrete to prevent damage from the water jets.
5. Install safety barriers
Most hydrodemolition robots feature heavy-duty rubber shields around the cutting head, but broken concrete still occasionally escapes, sometimes flying long distances at high speeds. Contractors should block off a minimum of 82 feet (25 meters) around the machine with plywood barriers and install warning signs. High-strength netting can also be installed around the robot.
Contractors should also install protective barriers around the water hose at connection points and in areas open to pedestrians or cars. Replace hoses when the outer cover is worn or damaged and do not lay hoses on sharp objects.
As with all equipment, make sure to read a hydrodemolition robot’s operating manual before use. In addition, look for training courses offered by manufacturers to improve job site safety, efficiency and quality of work.
Shawn Kirkpatrick is the service and application specialist for the U.S. distributor of Aquajet Systems AB, Brokk Inc. Kirkpatrick has extensive experience with electrical repair and hydraulic theory, repair and application training. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (360)794-1277.