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Workers struck by mobile plant

In January 2021, a worker on a private property was fatally injured when a telehandler ran over him. Early investigations show the telehandler was loading a crop-dusting plane with fertiliser at a private airstrip on the property when the operator reversed it over a worker.

In a separate incident in March 2021, a worker received serious leg injuries when he was struck by the wheel of a marine travel lift (can be known as a straddle carrier) at a marina. Initial enquiries indicate he was struck for reasons yet to be established while he was remotely operating a different vessel carrier in the same location as the marine travel lift.

Safety issues

Telehandlers, short for telescopic handlers, are versatile hydraulic lifting units often used in the construction, farming and agriculture sectors.

Modern telehandlers are manoeuvrable hybrid units that offer the load lifting capabilities of a forklift with the lifting range of a crane. Units are equipped with a telescopic boom that can be fitted with a wide range of attachments to allow the unit to perform a wide variety of functions.

A vessel carrier (marine travel lift, straddle carrier or similar plant designed to lift and move boats) is defined as powered mobile plant because it is plant with a form of self-propulsion that is ordinarily under the direct control of an operator.

Telehandlers and plant designed to lift and move boats pose a number of similar risks to operators and pedestrians, including:

  • the plant colliding or contacting people or objects such as other vehicles or plant and energised powerlines
  • the plant overturning
  • objects falling on the operator
  • the operator being ejected from the plant.

Ways to manage health and safety

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

Employers and self-employed persons are required to control the risk associated with mobile plant, including the risk of pedestrians being struck by mobile plant such as telehandlers and vessel carriers. Before operating powered mobile plant, the person with management or control of it must ensure:

  • the mobile plant selected is right for the task and is fitted with suitable safety features (e.g. rear-view mirrors and reversing warning device)
  • the design and implementation of a traffic management plan, including identifying suitable exclusion zones and communicating these to workers and other persons in the vicinity before tasks are carries out
  • the use of a spotter where required, including suitable means of communication between the spotter and operator (e.g. two-way radio) to assist with the safe movement of the plant, particularly where there may be blind spots or other workers in the vicinity
  • ground conditions and the intended travel pathway have been inspected and assessed to identify any problem areas e.g. sloping ground
  • there is adequate lighting to safely operate the plant
  • if outdoors, the effect of adverse weather conditions (e.g. reduced visibility) has been considered
  • Ensure any workers around the mobile plant are aware of operator blind spots and exclusion zones
  • Ensure the mobile plant is fitted with and has a working audible reverse warning device
  • a suitable combination of operator protective devices for the plant is provided
  • the manufacturer's operating instructions have been read and are followed. For older items of mobile plant where operating instructions are not available, operational procedures and instructions for use should be developed by a competent person
  • untrained or inexperienced workers should not operate the vehicle, particularly in unfamiliar or high-risk terrain or for unfamiliar tasks
    • information, training, instruction or supervision necessary to control the risks associated with plant.
    • training programs should be practical and ‘hands on’ and take into account the particular needs of workers like literacy levels, work experience and specific skills required for safe use of the plant
    • ensuring worker training, experience and competency aligns with the requirements and complexity of the task
    • training on the make and model of plant should be documented.

PCBUs must first consider controls that most effectively eliminate the risk or, where not reasonably practicable, that minimise the risks. Hazards such as pedestrians being struck by the mobile plant may also be minimised by implementing administrative controls, so far as is reasonably practicable. Administrative controls can include the design and implementation of a traffic management plan.

Traffic management plan

A traffic management plan is a set of rules for managing the movement of traffic in your workplace. It should be developed by the PCBU in consultation with workers and others in the workplace. Everyone affected by the plan must understand it and follow it.

An effective traffic management plan will include broad types of control measures that aim to do the following things:

  • Keeping vehicles and people apart
  • Limiting vehicle movements or speed
  • Avoiding the need for reversing vehicles
  • Provide a safe area for the driver
  • Provide clear signage road/area markings
  • Ensure effective workplace communication.

Adapted from Safe Work Australia guidance material

The best way to protect pedestrians is to make sure people and vehicles cannot interact. This can be achieved by not allowing vehicles into pedestrian spaces or not allowing pedestrians into vehicle operating areas.

However, this may not be always be reasonably practicable and where people and vehicles cannot be separated, using the following should be considered:

  • barriers or guardrails at building entrances and exits to stop pedestrians walking in front of vehicles
  • high impact traffic control barriers
  • temporary physical barriers, or
  • separate, clearly marked footpaths or walkways e.g. using lines painted on the ground or different coloured surfacing.
  • pedestrian routes and intersections should be clearly marked, unobstructed, well maintained and well lit.
  • Use of spotters.

Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment. For example:

  • the use of hard hats, steel cap boots and high visibility vests
  • safety footwear should be:
    • suitable for the type of work and environment
    • comfortable with an adequate non-slip sole and appropriate tread
    • checked regularly to ensure treads are not worn away or clogged with contaminants.

Administrative control measures and PPE rely on human behaviour and supervision. If used on their own, they are least effective in minimising risks. The control measures you put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.

More information

Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury?

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