When moving heavy pipe, material handlers offer different levels of safety.

 By John Major  – Pettibone Heavy Equipment Group

 Though many tend to focus on the upstream and midstream sectors when discussing oil and gas safety, industry professionals know safety is just as critical when constructing infrastructure or while conducting support tasks away from the drilling site or pipeline.

Getting Material Around

One common task is material handling, specifically moving and placing heavy pipe. Over the years, manufacturers have developed various solutions for this task to cover everything from moving pipe around stockyards, to placing it during pipeline construction.

However, not all solutions were originally conceived with this application in mind. For example, the wheel loader is a versatile machine that can be equipped with fork and grapple attachments for lifting pipe. But despite its secondary functionality, a wheel loader is primarily designed to move dirt. Users have to compromise on performance when using it as a pipe handler.

On the other hand, there are dedicated pieces of equipment, such as Pettibone’s Cary-Lift line of rough terrain forklifts, that are engineered specifically for material handling applications like lifting and placing pipe. These purpose-built machines accomplish these tasks in a safer and more efficient manner.


It is vital to have maximum visibility around any vehicle in order to maneuver it safely. When moving pipe through stockyards, drivers must navigate narrow aisleways — usually no more than 30 to 35 feet wide — and sometimes stack pipe as high as 12 feet. Transporting pipe around the yard generally requires the machine to be driven while its load is lifted up in the air.

With a wheel loader, visibility is obstructed by lift arms that are located directly in front of the vehicle. By contrast, the Cary-Lift has no structural components obstructing the forward view, thanks to a unique overhead lift arm design where the arms are mounted behind the cab. This design gives the operator full forward visibility of more than 180 degrees with no obstruction.


Another major safety factor for material handlers when moving pipe is stability. Weight distribution, suspension, wheelbase and tires can all influence a vehicle’s resistance to tipping, even during normal operations. Looking at a wheel loader again as an example, this machine is mainly designed move dirt. But wheel loaders feature articulated steering that is not conducive to carrying heavy loads and turning at the same time.

A wheel loader can lose as much as 50 percent of its rated load capacity when going into a turn, so drivers may have to resort to multiple-point turns. Simply relying on the vehicle’s specification data under normal use – and failing to make proper adjustments for speed, load or turning approach – will lead to greater likelihood of an accident. Personnel who work in stockyards are probably familiar with the sight of a wheel loader lying on its side with pipe scattered nearby on the ground.

Rather than an articulating joint, Pettibone Cary-Lift machines have a heavy-duty, solid steel frame design that offers the ability to take full loads into sharp turns without sacrificing any load capacity or stability. In the particular case of the newly redesigned Pettibone Cary-Lift 154, there is a shorter wheelbase that allows for a better turning radius without affecting load capacity. This new model also includes a wider stance for the lift arms, providing additional stability as a load is carried.

Pipeline construction jobs in the field provide further stability challenges for material handlers. Using an all-terrain, 4-wheel drive machine is a basic necessity when hauling or laying pipe into place during the construction process.

Another feature offered on the Cary-Lift to enhance stability is hydraulic frame sway control. This essentially levels the vehicle and the lifting frame to a certain degree in either direction. This leveling action compensates for the irregularities of uneven terrain, helping to ensure operators are carrying a safe, stable load.

 Keeping Personnel Safe

Unloading pipe from railroad gondola cars is another challenge. Gantry cranes are commonly used to take pipe out of gondola cars, but they require a worker to actually climb down inside the gondola car and strap the pipe before it can be lifted.

The Cary-Lift avoids the problem of placing people inside a gondola car. The machine’s overhead lift arms have the correct geometry to tilt the forks down 90 degrees and scoop the pipe out. A car can be completely emptied by one machine operator without having to put someone inside the car. This approach is safer and more efficient.





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