High Reach Excavators – Commonly Asked Questions on Offerings, Operation & Safety
Written By: Michael Bowens, Service Manager, Company Wrench
What is a High Reach Excavator?
A high reach excavator is a specialized piece of equipment designed to safely and precisely tear down tall buildings and other structures that a traditional excavator cannot safely reach. You might use this machine to demolish multi-story apartment buildings, coal plant boilers, cell towers, water towers, smokestacks, silos, or even a rollercoaster.
Built on the body of a standard excavator, these machines have custom boom and arm configurations called “fronts” that might reach anywhere from 50 to 120+ feet. Additional counterweight is necessary to help balance these fronts. At the end of the arm, connected by powerful hydraulics, is a metal or concrete processing shear.
When would I need a High Reach Excavator?
A high reach excavator is essential for any project where careful, “surgical” demolition of a tall structure is required to safely perform the work. This may be an 8-story NYC apartment building with occupied structures on 3 sides that can’t be structurally compromised for risk of endangering the public. It might be an old smokestack on an active power plant where closely adjacent buildings are operational and can’t be damaged by falling debris. It might be a site where overhead beams or conveyor systems need to be brought down but there isn’t enough room for a tower crane to do the picks.
High reach excavators effectively replace outdated and dangerous demolition methods, such as swinging a wrecking ball on a crane. They can also be used in place of controlled explosives to drop a building when this method is not feasible for the building site. And they are a great alternative to sending in laborers with oxy-propane torches to set-cut structural beams, so the building can then be crippled by pulling it down with cables.
What features should I look for in a High Reach Excavator?
Along with general function and stability, many models offer advanced features for worker comfort and workplace safety. Newer cabs tilt backward at an angle so the operator can comfortably see their work without having to strain their neck and back trying to look upwards. Taller machines are equipped with a camera at the arm tip and a live display screen in the cab for close-up visibility of the work. Some models also have a water line with a mist sprayer at the end to minimize dust emissions as the shear crunches through concrete and other dusty materials. This is particularly important for compliance with current EPA and NESHAPS dust emission regulations on projects.
How does a High Reach Excavator work?
The powerful shear attachment opens and closes using its hydraulic cylinders, cutting through I-beams or concrete floor decks the way a pair of scissors would. The attachment can also rotate 360 degrees at the end, so you can position the shear’s opening to make vertical, horizontal or angled cuts as needed.
Working from the top down, the operator nibbles away at the building. Once the higher elevations of the building have been razed, the remaining demolition is often handled by traditional excavators that can maneuver faster and carry bigger shears and other attachments.
Who is qualified to use a High Reach Excavator?
A person running a high reach excavator should be a well-trained and highly experienced heavy equipment operator. Ideally, the worker has previously run excavators with hydraulic demolition attachments, such as shears, concrete processing heads, and hydraulic hammers. Experience in high-profile demolition projects or running cranes can also be valuable.
Operators will need adequate OSHA or other safety training and be able to identify potential hazards, such as falling debris or structural failure. As this is a specialized skill set, using complicated and expensive equipment, the operator should be mature, responsible and have a strong attention to the safety of themselves and those working around them.
What are the safety concerns of High Reach Excavators?
These machines rarely have stabilizing outriggers and tend to be top heavy when extended due to the oversized boom and arm and the weight of the shear. Much like a crane, it should be sitting on level and firm ground to avoid tipping. Never place a high reach excavator in soft sand, deep mud, or on an inclined or sloping hill.
The machine should be carefully crawled and positioned in a location where building demolition access is possible without risking impact of falling debris. A delineated “drop zone” should be established and ground personnel should stay out of this area. Every worker on site should be trained in hazard communication and know the blind spots the operator has while inside the cab.
High reach excavators are excellent solutions for tall structures that can’t be demolished with other methods due to site or safety concerns. With plenty of options and features to choose from, Company Wrench can assist you in finding the right excavator and attachment today.