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Apprentice killed by hydraulic hook lift system

A young apprentice was killed after being trapped under part of the hydraulic hook lift system on a heavy rigid truck at a mechanical workshop.

Early enquiries indicate the apprentice, and another worker, were repairing the truck’s hydraulic hook lift system (also known as a hooklift or roll on roll off system). To access the area which needed fixing, the boom of the hook lift system was raised, and a safety prop used.

However, hydraulic fluid has leaked, causing a fall in pressure. That led to the hook lift boom lowering unexpectedly. For reasons yet to be established, it appears the safety prop failed, and the young man suffered fatal crush injuries.

Investigations are continuing.

Safety issues

Equipment that uses hydraulics to assist in its movement has the potential to cause serious injury or death. It is used across industries for trucks and transport, construction plant and equipment, farming machinery, manufacturing equipment and amusement rides.

Serious crush injuries can result from normal movement of the hydraulic equipment and when the hydraulic systems fail, from falling loads or unexpected moving parts. Plant arms or equipment can cause injury through rapid or slow movement, with or without the person being aware of the danger.

Hook lift devices are located on the rear of vehicles and are designed primarily for loading, unloading and tipping of containers or waste bins. Source: WorkSafe Victoria fact sheet: Using hook lifts – bin design and maintenance

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, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

Before accessing any parts of the plant (including hydraulic hook lift systems) for cleaning, maintenance or repairs, all hazards must be identified and adequately controlled. Inspection should be conducted in accordance with a regular maintenance system to identify:

  • potential problems not anticipated during plant design or task analysis
  • deficiencies in plant or the equipment associated with use of the plant (for example wear and tear, corrosion and damaged plant parts)
  • adverse effects of changes in processes or materials associated with plant
  • inadequacies in control measures previously implemented.

The WHS Regulation 2011 includes specific duties for persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) involving the management or control of plant including requirements to manage the health and safety risks associated with plant. The person with management or control of plant at a workplace must ensure maintenance, inspection and, if necessary, testing of plant is carried out by a competent person.

A safe system of work should be implemented to manage the risks associated with the inspection and maintenance of the plant (including hydraulic hook lift systems). The plant must be maintained and repaired according to the manufacturer’s specifications. If you identify deficiencies in the specifications, you should contact the manufacturer.

A safe system of work can include, but is not limited to:

  • Ensuring the plant, or part of the plant, that could move is adequately secured to prevent unexpected movement. This could include:
    • installing mechanical locks to support parts suspended by hydraulic systems
    • using props, blocks or chocks in accordance with the manufacturer’s safety instructions
    • using purpose designed and engineered support stands, jigs or cradles.
  • Consulting with the manufacturer, workers and others involved in the work to obtain feedback on the plant’s associated work processes and safe work procedures
  • When operating machinery that uses hydraulics:
    • never place yourself or others in a position where you could be crushed if hydraulics fail, or they are inadvertently used. When working on equipment, assess how it could shift if it were to move unexpectedly, and avoid working with any part of your body in the danger zone. Find alternative ways to access the equipment to maintain it, keeping workers out of the danger zone.
    • always read the instructions provided by the manufacturer and follow all safety directions
    • if a back-up safety system is provided on the plant, ensure it has been correctly installed and is always in use before entering a high-risk zone
    • if a safety system is not provided on the machine, make sure you use alternative system specified by the manufacturer, it is load-rated and has adequate strength to withstand safely any loads that could be applied to it
    • ensure workers working on, near or under hydraulics are adequately trained and supervised. A safe work procedure should outline the potential risks of working on or near hydraulic equipment and the likely consequences of hydraulic failure.
  • Ensuring there is sufficient space for safe access to the plant for maintenance and, repair activities
  • Never operate broken or worn equipment
  • Developing an isolation procedure which should be followed by workers when they are required to perform maintenance, repair and cleaning of plant. Isolation procedures involve isolating potentially hazardous energy, so the plant does not move or start up accidentally. Isolating plant may also ensure entry to a restricted area is controlled while the specific task is being carried out.
  • Providing information, training, instruction and supervision to workers who use the plant. This includes developing safe work procedures, in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, that are suitable and adequate to:
    • the nature of the work to be carried out by the worker
    • the nature of the risks associated with the work (at the time the information, training or instruction is provided)
    • the control measures implemented to deal with these risks.

Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE). For example, providing workers with steel cap boots, hearing protection and protective eyewear.

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

Young Workers

Business owners must also ensure the work environment, and the way young employees do their job, is safe and healthy, regardless of the type and terms of their employment. Employers of young workers should:

  • understand young workers' risk profile
  • ensure a safe and healthy workplace
  • provide information, training, instruction and supervision
  • develop a positive workplace culture.

Consider the tasks you give to new and young workers given their skills, abilities and experience. Before a young person begins work, a PCBU should:

  • identify the gaps in the worker's knowledge and assess their ability to work safely (competency should be tested)
  • it is not sufficient to accept a young worker's assurance that he or she is experienced and competent.

It's important for young workers to actively participate in the way that work health and safety is managed. This means taking induction and training seriously, using the risk management process for work tasks and asking for help before starting a task they're not familiar with or comfortable carrying out.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

For advice and support: