Safety First—Five Tips for Getting the Most Out of Rental Equipment

By Stacy Long, Ditch Witch Product Safety Engineer

Like rental centers, rental operators demand reliable equipment to improve ROI. Time is money, and in order to make the most of their time, productivity is key. 

The productive use of rental equipment, such as walk-behind trenchers and mini skid steers, depends on consistent, effective operation. Before the tire or track meets the soil, rental operators need to make sure they won’t encounter a problem due to unsafe operation.

Whether operating rental equipment for the first time or working with years of accumulated experience, operators must always keep safety guidelines in mind on any jobsite. After all, you don’t want to learn safety by accident.

The following five guidelines will help rental operators get the most out of their rental equipment by using proper, safe operating procedures and good judgment.

Read the Operator’s Manual

The first rule of thumb to help ensure safe, jobsite procedures is to read the operator’s manual, which is loaded with important safety and practical, machine-operation information. This booklet will become every operator’s trusty sidekick when on the job and in the shop. Even operators with years of experience will benefit from the quick access to an abundance of operation and maintenance reminders. 

Operators will find relevant information for rental equipment in the manual, including the operation overview, procedures for inspecting a jobsite and how to identify jobsite hazards and safety precautions. For instance, if a person approaches within six feet of an operating trencher, the operator is instructed to stop the digging chain. The manual includes this type of safety information and numerous other details.

The operator’s manual is included with the equipment rental or is available upon request. Additionally, the manufacturer’s website houses all updated equipment operator’s manuals for download. 

Understand Equipment Operation

Once the manual is read, an operator is ready to get a feel for their rental equipment. Spending time on the machine before beginning work will familiarize an operator with how the controls actually work and respond.

But how much practice is enough? The time it takes to get comfortable with equipment varies from operator to operator. To help ease into normal operation, new operators should begin slowly when starting off. As a best practice, operators should be comfortable with the operation of each machine before starting to work. 

It is easier to recognize a problem on a job when comfortably running a machine at a normal level of operation. Feeling comfortable and knowing how to operate a machine properly will help reduce the risk of downtime, in turn, helping operators get the most out of their rental equipment.

To provide additional awareness, the Ditch Witch organization has listened to customer feedback and dedicated time visiting jobsites gathering common operator questions and issues. The findings helped develop a number of online safety materials, such as videos and toolbox talks, to provide additional guidance on safe equipment operation. The website also includes a dedicated email address to answer any questions about safe operation on the job. 

Call 811

Whether operators are plotting new landscape or installing utility lines, they need to know what’s beneath the ground. And calling 811 is the first step to knowing what’s below. 

Attention to colored markers, such as paint and flags, showing utility line locations can help reduce injuries, fines and other jobsite risks. To eliminate potential downtime from striking a line, remember to:

  • Call 811 a few days before a job begins. Impacted utility companies will send a locator out within two to three working days to identify and mark their lines.
  • Think about the services near a jobsite. Utility companies will mark their lines up to the meter, but private lines may remain unmarked. 
  • Use facility records to approximate the location and number of buried lines.
  • Check the 811 website for a full list of details and specific guidelines for each state. 

Use Equipment Carefully

Equipment only remains productive when it’s in good working condition. Rental equipment should be inspected before the start of each day on a job to make sure it is working properly. If something doesn’t look right, have the rental store make the necessary repairs before beginning work. 

The Ditch Witch organization has a checklist for inspecting equipment. By checking off the items, such as leaks, loose fittings and hardware, an operator is better prepared to maintain a safe jobsite.

In addition to checking equipment, operators must still use proper operating procedures and good judgment. For instance, make sure others are at least six feet away when using a trencher. The ground can give way when trenching, creating an unsafe radius around the equipment in use. 

Think Personal Protection

When operating equipment, expect the unexpected. Always be prepared by wearing appropriate protective gear, such as safety glasses, earplugs, a hard hat, gloves, and steel-toe boots.

These five guidelines can boost productivity on the jobsite by helping operators continuously and efficiently run rental equipment. For a full list of safety guidelines and a collection of checklists, videos and expertise focused on equipment operation, visit  

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