Skip to content

Fatal incident involving the unloading of construction materials

In September 2022, a person was killed after they were struck by a piece of steel during the unloading of construction materials from a semi-trailer.

Initial inquires indicate that during the unloading process, the person has attempted to climb on to the trailer by grabbing a piece of steel still sitting on the trailer. After grabbing the piece of steel it has then rolled off the trailer, striking him and causing fatal injuries.

Investigations are continuing.

Safety issues

Loading and unloading trucks at workplaces can be hazardous, depending on the type of material being handled, nature of the task, and the weather conditions. The site location may also present other unique risks, including varying terrain and people near the load/unload area.

Factors that can add to the risks of falls from trailers include but are not limited to:

  • using tyres as steps to climb onto the trailer
  • climbing onto unrestrained items. Items can shift unexpectedly and fall
  • poorly designed ladders or steps
  • workers climbing on the top of trailer where there are unprotected openings
  • workers climbing at height over, onto or around oversized or overhanging loads
  • workers jumping down at height from the carrier or trailer
  • parking on an incline, where loads can shift and push workers off the trailer
  • an item blocking the worker from safely climbing up, such as the load, load restraint or fixed toolbox.

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

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has a duty to ensure workers and other people are not exposed to health and safety risks, including the risks associated with loading and unloading trucks.

The most effective control measure is to eliminate the hazard or hazardous work practice associated with workers accessing a trailer when loading or unloading. Higher order risk controls include designing plant or structures to be without risks to the health and safety of any person.

This can include designing or modifying the trailer so the worker does not need to climb onto the trailer (this could also be considered an engineering control). Examples include:

  • fuel and bulk-liquid tankers with valves, fittings and hoses located where filling and dispensing can be carried out from ground level
  • tip trucks and trailers fitted with ground-level tarping systems.

Some common engineering risk control measures can include but are not limited to the following examples:

  • using a mobile work platform or edge protection, such as guard rails on the trailer
  • using a suitable step ladder or portable handrail on the trailer
  • modify the trailer surface with a slip resistant material
  • installation of hand holds and foot holds at suitable heights and locations to allow three points of contact to be maintained, where practicable.

In situations where construction materials are delivered, a safe system of work for loading and unloading trucks should be implemented and maintained. This could include, but is not limited to:

  • creating a delivery area away from other pedestrians or work activities
  • where practicable, arrange the load so workers do not need to climb onto the trailer
  • load multi-drop deliveries in sequence so workers can easily access items at each stop, where practicable
  • inspect the load prior to unloading to identify any potential movement of materials that occurred during transit or that may become a hazard while unloading
  • secure loads that do not have to be unloaded or that you do not want to move while unloading
  • inspecting and preparing the lay down area. Confirm that the worksite is free of debris, holes and objects that could obstruct the loading or unloading process, or cause slips, trips and falls. Ideally the lay down area should be located on firm, level ground.
  • separating people from unloading areas using barriers, fences or other similar options. For example:
    • where possible, workers should not access the loading/receiving area when mobile plant are operating during the load/unload process
    • creating dedicated waiting areas for truck drivers (consider a separate area) and ensuring the driver doesn’t leave the area otherwise loading/receiving activities cease
    • during loading and unloading, safe, controlled access zones should be identified and established. Caution cones or delineators must be placed to delineate and identify the exclusion zones.
  • providing workers with instruction, training and supervision on safe work procedures. Training and instruction should be provided to workers by a competent person in an easy-to-understand manner.
  • confirming workers involved in the activities are aware of the weight of the stock to be loaded or unloaded
  • consultation regarding the work and the related risks must occur between the PCBU and workers and others whose health and safety is likely to be affected.

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

  • use hard hats, steel cap boots, eye protection, hearing protection 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

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

For advice and support: