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Fatal incident involving garbage truck

In November 2021, a mechanic died after being trapped in the back of a rear-loading garbage truck.

Early investigations indicate the man had climbed into the compacting section of the garbage truck to fix a problem when for reasons yet to be established he was trapped and suffered fatal injuries.

Investigations are continuing.

Safety issues

There are significant risks associated with using plant and machinery, with a potential for severe injury or death from unsafe use including:

  • crushing or fatal entrapment of a person between moving parts of machines
  • limbs amputated by unguarded moving parts of machines
  • sustaining fractures from falls while accessing, operating or maintaining large plant.

Plant and equipment that uses hydraulics to assist in its movement has the potential to also cause serious injury or death and are used in many industries including transport, construction and manufacturing. The potential energy in hydraulic equipment can be extremely high as it is used to shift and support large loads such as in garbage truck bodies.

Serious crush injuries can result from normal movement of hydraulic equipment. Plant arms or equipment can cause injury through rapid or slow movement, with or without the worker being aware of the danger.

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

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must eliminate risks arising from plant in the workplace, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes complying with any requirements under relevant work health and safety legislation in relation to the work.

Before accessing any parts of plant (including garbage trucks) for cleaning, maintenance or repairs, all hazards must be identified and adequately controlled. Effective control measures for maintenance of plant are often made up of a combination of controls.

Engineering controls are physical control measures to minimise risk (e.g. interlocked guards on machinery). A guard is a physical or other barrier that can perform several functions including:

  • preventing contact with moving parts or controlling access to dangerous areas of plant
  • preventing ejected parts or off-cuts from striking people.

Administrative controls are a lower order control and can be used in conjunction with higher order controls to minimise the risks associated with the cleaning, maintenance or repairs of plant.

A safe system of work should be implemented to manage the risks associated with inspection and maintenance of plant. This could include, but is not limited to:

  • Ensuring the plant is inspected, maintained and repaired according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications. The manufacturer's instructions should be included in a safe work procedure on how inspection and maintenance should be carried out.
  • 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. The lock-out process is the most effective isolation procedure and should include:
    • the shut down of the machinery and equipment
    • identification of all energy sources and other hazards
    • identification of all isolation points
    • isolation of all energy sources
    • controlling or de-energising all stored energy
    • locking out all isolation points
    • tagging machinery controls, energy sources and other hazards
    • testing by ‘trying’ to reactivate the plant without exposing the tester or others to risk.
  • Not working within the plant’s danger zone. 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 (e.g. use a mobile work platform to access the top of the garbage compaction area from the outside rather than climb inside).
  • Before allowing workers to enter a hazardous zone (e.g. the garbage compaction area), ensuring the truck is turned off and the controls disengaged to prevent inadvertent activation.
  • If inspecting, testing or maintaining plant while the plant is energised because it is impossible to carry out the activity de-energised you must ensure that the operator’s controls:
    • permit operation of the plant while a worker or other person is undertaking maintenance or cleaning of the plant
    • while the plant is being maintained or cleaned, either:
      • it cannot be operated by a person other than the person carrying out the maintenance or cleaning of the plant, or
      • if the plant must be operated by a person other than the person carrying out maintenance or cleaning, it cannot be operated except by a person authorised by the person with management or control of the plant
    • ensuring any emergency systems are in place and functioning properly (e.g. emergency stop devices work) since they may reduce the severity of a potential incident if they are able to be activated quickly. Emergency stop devices should not be the only method of controlling risks. They should be designed as a back-up to other control measures.
  • Putting in place a process to enable effective communication and consultation with workers and other persons to prevent any risks arising from restarting plant operation when plant has been shut down due to inspection, maintenance or cleaning.
  • 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
    • 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 another system that is specified by the manufacturer, 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.
  • Ensuring there is sufficient space for safe access to the plant for maintenance, repair, or cleaning activities.
  • 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.
  • 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, gloves, aprons and protective eyewear.

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

For advice and support: