A worker was killed in October 2017 after being struck in the face by an exploding wheel and tyre. Initial inquiries indicate that the worker attempted to weld up a small leak in the truck wheel, whilst the tyre was still pressurised.
The welding appears to have caused an internal combustion blowing the wheel off the tyre. The wheel hit the worker, killing him instantly, before travelling 5.5 metres into the air, going through the roof and landing some 23 metres away.
The wheel was a single piece design, not a split or multi-piece rim.
Preventing a similar incident
Workers have been seriously injured or killed by blasted parts of a tyre and rim assembly or by the force of the sudden release of air pressure. Injuries have included permanent damage to hearing and eyesight.
Truck tyres are significantly larger and are designed to operate under higher pressure than regular car tyres, increasing the risk associated with an exploding tyre.
There are no circumstances under which maintenance should be carried out on a wheel while it has a tyre mounted on it under pressure, particularly any type of welding or wheel repair. Before any work is carried out on a wheel, you must ensure that the tyre has been completely de-pressurised by deflating the tyre and removing the core from the valve stem. Tyres should also be removed from the wheel to prevent damage during the repair.
Only competent people should carry out repairs to a wheel. Any parts that are deemed unserviceable should be clearly labelled to prevent use, and disposed of.
If you are a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) where workers are required to repair, maintain or change heavy vehicle tyres, you must ensure that:
- an appropriate safe system of work is in place
- workers are suitably trained and competent to perform the task
- the wheel is inspected for damage and corrosion prior to refitting of tyres
- tyres, whether new or used, are inspected for defects
- tyre and rim assemblies are adequately secured in a safety cage or other portable restraint device prior to inflating the tyre
- potential trajectory paths from a failure and exclusion zones have been identified
- workers stand outside of the exclusion zones when seating a tyre bead and inflating tyres above 35 kPa or 5 psi
- tyres are only inflated to the recommended pressure
- the air hose between the clip-on valve nozzle and the remote gauge and trigger is long enough for workers to stay outside of the exclusion zone
- a remote dump valve is also fitted that is capable of rapidly deflating the tyre in an emergency.
When maintaining or repairing heavy vehicle tyres or rims, you should deflate the tyres prior to removing from the vehicle. This does not apply to removing wheel tyre assemblies to facilitate other forms of maintenance such as tyre rotation, alignments or brake servicing. However, the wheel assembly should be thoroughly inspected for defects prior to removal.
The most common way to ensure a wheel is adequately secured before inflating is to use a tyre safety cage. The wheel is located in the centre of the cage preventing the wheel or tyre from being ejected in the event of an explosion.
Split rims are also common on heavy machinery. These introduce additional risks associated with over-inflation, incorrect fitment of parts, and failure of wheel components due to damage and corrosion. Multi-piece wheels are an inherently unsafe design.
Since 1 July 2012, Workplace health and Safety Queensland has been notified of 17 events involving wheel rims and tyres exploding. Of these, eight (47.1%) led to a serious injury requiring hospitalisation. Over this period, 21 workers' compensation claims have been accepted as a result of tyre explosions. One was for a worker's death after a tyre exploded while being changed on a large mining vehicle.
Prosecutions and compliance
Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has prosecuted five PCBUs for incidents of this nature. Note that all five companies were prosecuted under legislation now repealed. Current work health and safety laws allow for fines of up to $10 million for a corporate offender and 20 years imprisonment for an individual.
In 2000 a company was fined $8000 after a worker was seriously injured when a tyre exploded during inflation. The worker was struck in the face and suffered a fractured jaw and lacerations.
In 2007 a company was fined $50,000 after a worker was killed when he was struck by an exploding wheel and tyre. He was welding a leaking rim while a pressurised tyre was still fitted to the wheel. Witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion and observed the wheel and tyre flying in the air.
In 2009 a company was fined $50,000 after a worker was killed when a tyre blew off the rim causing fatal crush injuries after striking the worker in the chest and head.
In 2010 a company was fined $45,000 after a worker received serious head injuries while removing a split rim wheel from a mobile crane. He inadvertently removed the nuts that hold split rim assembly together, which caused the split rim to crack. Rapid depressurisation then forcefully expelled the tyre hitting the worker in the head.
In 2012 a company was fined $50,000 after a worker was seriously injured following a tyre explosion. The tyre exploded in the employees face, breaking his nose, thumb and right arm, and causing facial lacerations that required surgery.
In 2014, a company entered into an enforceable undertaking with a total minimum expenditure of $207,401 as an alternative to prosecution. A worker received serious facial fractures and another received minor leg injuries after they attempted to fit and inflate a tyre to a damaged truck rim. The tyre exploded as it was being inflated.
Managing the Risk of Plant in the Workplace Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.57 MB)
How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.02 MB)
Workplace hazards - Rim wheels
Workplace hazards - Safety with tyre fitting