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Water truck operator killed after being thrown from cab

In January 2021, a water truck operator was working on a civil construction job when the vehicle rolled over. He suffered fatal injuries after being thrown from the cab and trapped underneath the truck.

Safety issues

Mobile plant, including water trucks, pose a number of risks to drivers and passengers. These include:

  • plant operators and service personnel falling from earthmoving equipment during onsite inspection, maintenance or repairs. (Source – Worksafe Victoria)
  • 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 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 drivers or passengers being ejected. Before operating powered mobile plant, the person with management or control of it must ensure:

  • the vehicle selected is the right vehicle for the task
  • weather, ground conditions and the intended travel pathway have been inspected and assessed to identify any problem areas e.g. sloping ground
  • a seat belt, where fitted, is worn
    • ensure all occupants wear a seatbelt to keep them secured in the seat and protect them from serious or fatal injuries
    • ensure all seat belts are in good working condition
  • a suitable combination of operator protective devices for the plant is provided
  • ensure it is driven to suit the environmental conditions and slow enough to retain control in unexpected circumstances
  • reduce speed before turning or applying brakes
  • use as wide a wheel track as possible when working on hillsides and sloping ground
  • descend slopes cautiously, keeping the powered mobile plant in low gear to allow motor compression to act as a brake. Watch out for ditches, embankments, and depressions - unstable banks can cause rollovers
  • 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
  • not allow untrained or inexperienced people to operate the vehicle, particularly in unfamiliar or high-risk terrain or for unfamiliar tasks.

PCBUs must also provide a system of work that includes effective communication with workers in remote or isolated locations. If you are working in a remote area or working alone, always let someone know where you are going and when you are expected to return.

For hazards similar to this particular incident, PCBUs must first consider controls that most effectively eliminate the risk or, where not reasonably practicable, that minimise the risks. Hazards such as the operator being thrown from the cab of the mobile plant may also be minimised by implementing administrative controls, so far as is reasonably practicable. Administrative controls can include:

  • information, training, instruction, or supervision necessary to control the risks associated with plant
  • all operating manuals and instructional material provided by the manufacturer should be kept showing how to correctly operate and maintain the 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.

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, and used on their own, tend to be 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

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