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Worker’s arm crushed by excavator

In June 2020, a worker suffered crush injuries to his arms and hands after an excavator bucket collided with waste oil drums while he was preparing to attach lifting equipment.

Investigations into the incident are ongoing.

Preventing a similar incident

Mobile plant (other than a mobile crane) may be used as a mobile crane to lift or lower freely suspended loads (i.e. the load is not pinned to the boom but is suspended from the boom by means of a chain or rope). Mobile plant that is sometimes used in this way include forklifts and earth-moving machinery such as backhoes, front-end loaders and excavators. Unlike cranes, these types of mobile plant are not specifically designed to lift or suspend loads. It is important to note that when mobile plant (other than a mobile crane) is used as a mobile crane, the level of safety provided by the lifting set-up should be at least equal to that when a mobile crane is used.

There are significant risks associated with using plant that lifts or suspends loads, and severe injuries can result from unsafe use. Specific controls are required for this plant including but not limited to s219 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.

The person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage risks associated with plant. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who operate and manage the business. Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process and involves four steps, which are: identifying hazards, assessing risks, controlling risks and monitoring and reviewing control measures to ensure they are effective.

Once the risks have been assessed the next step is to control risks associated with the plant. These control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and are known as the hierarchy of control. A PCBU must work through this hierarchy to choose the control or controls that most effectively eliminates or, where that is not reasonably practicable, minimises risks. Following the hierarchy of controls, you must always aim first to eliminate the hazards associated with using mobile plant (other than a mobile crane) to lift or lower freely suspended loads. If elimination is not possible, work your way down the order of controls. This can include one or a combination of the following:


Substitute the plant for safer alternative plant. Consider using a mobile crane instead of an excavator, where practicable.

Engineering controls

This involves changing physical characteristics of the plant or work area to remove or reduce the risk. Examples include:

  • ensuring all lifting points on earthmoving plant form a closed eye, to which a load rated shackle may be attached.
  • burst protection is to be fitted on all earthmoving plant used as a crane, where the rated capacity exceeds 1 tonne. The burst protection is to be fitted to both the boom and dipper arm of the plant. Burst protection is to comply with the performance requirements of ISO 8643: Earthmoving machinery – Hydraulic excavator and backhoe loader boom-lowering control device – Requirements and tests.

Administrative controls

If risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls. This can include safe work procedures, signage and training to control the risk. Examples include:

  • ensure the operator has received adequate training and instruction in the use of the equipment. PCBU’s should assess and verify the operator’s knowledge and competence to operate the plant before they commence work. In some circumstances, the operator of the mobile plant may also need to hold the appropriate high risk work licence class.
  • ensure the operator is familiar with the design, control layout, cabin functions and operating functions of the plant they are required to operate
  • using the load chart of the mobile plant to identify each lift point location, and the corresponding rated capacity for each position. The appropriate load chart should be fixed inside the operator’s cabin or readily available to the operator
  • before allowing workers to enter a hazardous zone (e.g. within the slew radius of the excavator, the area near a suspended load), the dipper arm should be lowered and the machine turned off or the controls disengaged to prevent inadvertent activation of the controls
  • establish an effective method of communication between the operator and worker on the ground (e.g. two-way radios and hand signals)
  • ensure all workers are using or following the selected method of communication.

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

More Information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury? For advice and support: