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Worker killed on cane rail siding

In October 2017, a driver's assistant was struck and killed by rolling stock on a cane rail siding. She left the locomotive to activate points during a shunting sequence, allowing the train to leave the main track and enter the middle loop. She then gave instruction for the train to push empty cane bins into the middle loop.

Initial inquiries indicate that she then attempted to cross the middle loop track to get to a second set of points, when she was struck and killed by the rolling stock. The train continued to push down the track until the driver became concerned about the lack of communication from his assistant.

Investigations into the incident are continuing.

Preventing a similar incident

Risk assessments for work on or around cane sidings, locomotives and rolling stock should consider:

  • locomotives or rolling stock coming into contact with other things – vehicles, plant, machinery, people and animals
  • shunting of rail bins.

During shunting, workers are at risk of being crushed by cane bins when coupling up. This risk can only be eliminated if no work takes place between bins while they or the locomotive are moving. PCBU's must ensure that safe work procedures are in place for shunting and other activities that involve working around locomotives or rolling stock.

Sidings should be well maintained including mowing, levelling, removing trip hazards and covering drains. Bins left in sidings or on the running line while shunting should be restrained so that they cannot move in any direction. This is normally achieved using chocks or mechanical restraints.

PCBU must ensure that:

  • workers never jump off a locomotive and always dismount by stepping off
  • workers move briskly but do not run
  • workers do not cross the path of a moving locomotive or rolling stock
  • workers leave the locomotive on the side which the work is to take place
  • workers adhere to exclusion zones while locomotives or rolling stock are moving
  • drivers and driver's assistants maintain communications at all times and visible contact whenever possible - this can be achieved through voice or radio, hand, torch and headlight signals, and locomotive horn codes
  • workers wear hi-visibility workwear
  • good lighting is in place at all terminals and sidings
  • the locomotive or rolling stock do not begin to move during the shunting sequence before a signal from the driver's assistant.

When performing shunting activities, workers must:

  • where possible, avoid being on the ground in the delivery point area while bins are being delivered, shunted or moved
  • watch for approaching farm tractors or haul out vehicles
  • watch for moving bins
  • be aware that a siding may have two or more harvest groups loading on different lines in the siding
  • avoid starting shunting until the line is clear of haul out vehicles
  • where possible, avoid walking down the centre of any line in a siding.


Since 2010, we have responded to twelve notifications involving fatalities or serious injuries associated with hitting, or being hit or crushed by cane locomotives or rolling stock. These resulted in five improvement notices and one prohibition notice being issued.

Since 2010, there have been twelve workers' compensation claims accepted for injuries associated with hitting, or being hit or crushed by cane locomotives or rolling stock. Injuries included fractures, crush injuries, lacerations and soft tissue damage.

Prosecutions and compliance

In 2007 a company was fined $650,000 following the death of two systems maintenance workers. The workers were performing maintenance activities on a rail siding when an on-line maintenance vehicle reversed over and killed them.

In 2013 a company entered into an enforceable undertaking after two workers were injured while operating a cane locomotive. The workers were attempting to cross a bridge over a flooded river when part of the bridge gave way. The locomotive fell to the side and was left partially submerged. One worker's arm was broken and the other escaped with only minor injuries. Fortunately both were able to exit the locomotive without becoming trapped underwater. The undertaking required the company to deliver training and infrastructure inspection packages and update the Australian sugar industry inspection guidelines, with a minimum expenditure of $230,624.

More information

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