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Worker struck by building materials

In November 2019, a truck driver sustained serious lacerations to his leg when he was struck by building materials which had fallen off a pallet.

Early indications are the driver was on his flat-bed truck while a forklift unloaded pallets of building materials. Whilst unloading, a pallet of material toppled onto his leg causing significant injuries.

Preventing a similar incident

Loading and unloading building materials on construction sites can be hazardous, depending on the type of material being handled, nature of the task, and the environmental conditions. The site location may also present other unique risks, including varying terrain and people working in the vicinity of the load/unload area.

In situations where multiple types of materials are delivered to site on the same pallet (for example boxes of tiles, ducting, bags of cement), items can become unstable during transportation. Individual items should be secured appropriately to prevent the load or part of the load from becoming unstable and falling off during the loading/unloading operation.

PCBUs must ensure the provision and maintenance of a safe system of work when loading and unloading trucks. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who operate and manage the business or undertaking.

Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process. Risk management involves four steps:

  • Identify hazards – find out what could cause harm.
  • Assess risks - understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening.
  • Control risks – implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
  • Review – asses control measures to ensure they are working as planned.

You must always aim to eliminate a hazard causing the risk with something of lesser risk. If these controls are not reasonably practicable, you must minimise the risk by one or a combination of the following:

  • Elimination - the most effective control measure is to remove the hazard or hazardous work practice associated with the unloading of construction materials.
  • Isolation – separate people from mobile plant using barriers, fences or other similar options. Where possible, workers should not access the loading/receiving area when forklifts or other mobile plant are operating during the load/unload process. Creating dedicated waiting areas for truck drivers (consider a separate area or room) and ensuring the driver doesn't leave the area otherwise loading/receiving activities will cease. PCBU's have a responsibility to ensure all exclusion zones and unloading procedures are communicated and followed by workers.
  • Engineering controls - for example, using mobile plant designed for the task (purpose-designed equipment suitable for construction sites). Ensure the mobile plant and any attachments are used in accordance with the manufacturer's specifications and suitable for the load being lifted. Where possible, use level ground to minimise the risk of the load becoming unstable during loading/unloading.
  • Administrative controls – if risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls. For example:
    • develop and maintain a traffic management plan, safe work procedures and provide training for workers
    • implement and enforce exclusion zones where no-one places themselves between the load and the truck or trailer and lifting equipment that may arise during loading or unloading (e.g. other vehicle, tree, concrete retaining wall)
    • operators loading or unloading construction materials are trained, competent and correctly supervised
    • inspect the load prior to unloading to identify any potential movement of materials.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) - consider using high-visibility or reflective clothing, hard hats and steel cap boots.

The control measures you put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.


In the last five years, 72 workers' compensation claims were accepted where a worker was struck by an object falling from a forklift.

Between July 2014 and November 2019, WHSQ was notified of 19 events involving the risk of falling loads from a forklift in the construction industry. In the same period, WHSQ issued 167 statutory notices relating to the risk management of all work activities associated with the operation of forklifts in the construction industry.

Prosecutions and compliance

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

In 2017, a company was fined $35,000 when a worker sustained a fractured ankle and torn ligaments and tendons when a load on the rear trailer of a road train destabilised after another worker used a forklift to remove a pallet. A 9-metre-long pack of timber weighing 274 kg dislodged from the top of the trailer's load, falling onto the worker who standing on opposite side to the forklift operator.

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