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Worker fatally crushed by steel pipe

In December 2018, a worker died when he was crushed by a steel pipe which fell off the back of a truck. The worker and two others were unloading two 12m steel pipes, each weighing 1.8 tonnes, one at a time with a forklift. After the ratchet straps were released, it appears one of the pipes rolled, striking the stanchions and causing them to fail. The pipe continued rolling and fell off the truck, landing on and crushing the worker's chest and head.

In January 2019, workers were loading large pipe tees (a T-shaped pipe junction) weighing 500kg onto a trailer. The workers identified that the strapping of the tees onto timber pallets was not adequate for the size and weight of the load. One worker climbed onto the trailer to place additional strapping on one tee. While he was still on the trailer, a high reach forklift operator loaded another pipe tee onto the trailer. The tee slid forward off the forklift tines and struck him, knocking him off the trailer and continuing to fall off the trailer itself. He fell to the ground and fortunately the tee landed next to him without striking him.

Preventing a similar incident

Loading and unloading pipe or cylindrical stock includes moving or handling of pipe by lifting, lowering, pushing, carrying, holding, or restraining. Pipe movement may be hazardous, depending on the type of pipe being handled, the nature of the task, and the conditions of the work site. The location may present unique risks which should be assessed and controlled before work begins. This task often requires someone to be in a potentially dangerous position if there is sudden movement of loads.

While there is a considerable amount of guidance for securing loads while a truck is driving on a road to prevent the load moving, there is little guidance on controlling the risk of movement while loading or unloading a truck.

PCBUs responsibilities include:

  • preferably using transport systems for pipe that do not allow the pipe to either roll off the truck bed or against stanchions on the bed. Typically, these systems include scalloped dunnage (i.e. radiused cradles), particularly for the bottom layer of pipes on the tray or trailer. If subsequent layers of timber are used between ascending layers these too should be designed to prevent pipes from moving (unless the higher layers of pipes sit snugly against the pipes below)
  • enforcing procedures governing the safe loading, unloading, inspection, and handling of pipe or cylindrical stock including:
    • a site hazard assessment completed and controls implemented to reduce or mitigate all recognised hazards to an acceptable level
    • designated procedures are communicated, available for review and followed
    • individuals responsible for carrying out tasks sufficiently trained and competent, hold applicable or mandated certificates or high-risk work licences to perform the tasks
    • all lifting equipment (i.e. cranes, forklifts, vacu-lifts, etc.) inspected in line with regulatory and manufacturer requirements
  • confirming personnel involved in the activities are aware of the weight of the stock to be loaded or unloaded
  • undertaking assessment and maintenance of the truck including the restraint systems (stanchions)
  • ensuring procedures are developed and followed for worker safety including:
    • no-one to place themselves between the load and the truck, trailer, lifting equipment or any other pinch point or crush locations that may arise while loading or unloading (for example headboard, tailboard, other vehicle, tree, concrete retaining wall)
    • no-one to work on the opposite side of the trailer other than the operator seated in the cab of the backstop forklift
    • during loading and unloading, safe, controlled access zones (safety zones) to be identified and established. Caution cones or delineators must be placed to delineate and identify the exclusion (controlled access) zones.

PCBUs must also ensure articles of the load which are likely to roll must be restrained to prevent rolling. The system to prevent rolling must not be capable of becoming unintentionally unfastened or loose while the vehicle is in transit. Items placed beside each other and secured by transverse tie-downs must be:

  • placed in direct contact with each other, or
  • prevented from shifting towards each other while in transit.

When unloading pipes:

  • the lay down area should be inspected and prepared. Confirm that the worksite is free of debris, holes and objects that could obstruct the loading or unloading process, damage the pipe, or cause slips, trips and falls
  • visually inspect the loaded truck or trailer and check the bottom pipe sections are properly seated in their cradle and none of the chocks are missing or loose. Check the above pipe sections are properly nested. Confirm that chocks are in place and secure between the joints of pipe. If any hazards are identified, stop all work immediately and address them before releasing the tie down straps
  • when releasing a pry bar type ratchet strap, confirm the pry bar is in the holes securely and that fingers are clear when releasing the catch on the ratchet to release it.


Each year, 108 workers' compensation claims are accepted for injuries to workers being struck by a falling object from a truck or trailer. Of these, 50 per cent involve a serious injury requiring five or more days off work.

Since 1 July 2013, there have been 158 notified events involving people being injured by falling objects from or relating to trucks. Four of these were fatal and 80 involved a serious injury requiring hospitalisation.

In the same period, we have issued ten statutory notices for issues involving people being injured byfalling objects from or relating to trucks.

Prosecutions and compliance

In 2018, a timber company was fined $210,000 after a truck driver was crushed to death while delivering product to the company. Using a forklift, another worker was unloading from one side of the truck, with the driver out of view on the other side releasing a loading strap. The forklift dislodged a load of timber which fell and crushed the truck driver.

More information

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