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Workers injured by front-end loader bucket

In July 2022, two workers were injured, one seriously, after being struck by a front-end loader bucket while working as part of a road maintenance team.

Early enquiries indicate the two workers were attaching an aggregate spreader or ‘cockerel box’ to the rear of a tipper truck. The aggregate spreader was being manipulated into place using chains attached to the bucket of the front-end loader. After the workers attached the aggregate spreader to the truck, the front-end loader’s bucket unexpectedly detached striking both workers.

Safety issues

Mobile plant (other than a mobile crane) is sometimes used as a mobile crane to lift or lower freely suspended loads. Mobile plant that is used in this way includes earthmoving plant such as backhoes, front-end loaders and excavators.

Unlike cranes, these types of mobile plant are not specifically designed to lift or suspend loads. As an example, earthmoving plant used in crane mode generally cannot lift in a purely vertical motion like a crane, because it is not fitted with a winch. Lifting of loads with earthmoving plant may be a risk to nearby people - for example:

  • the bucket or lifting attachment suddenly failing because the quick hitch or quick coupler releases
  • damaged lifting gear causing load failure
  • unsecured and dropped loads (falling objects)
  • overturning of plant due to unsafe lifting procedures (lifting above the plant’s rated capacity, unstable ground, etc).

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

There are significant risks associated with using plant that lifts or suspends loads, and severe injuries can result from unsafe use. It is important to note that when mobile plant (other than a mobile crane) is used as a mobile crane, the level of safety provided by the lifting set-up should be at least equal to that when a mobile crane is used.

A PCBU must eliminate risks arising from plant in the workplace, or if that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks. When plant is being used to lift or suspend persons or things, the person with management or control of plant at a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the plant used is specifically designed to lift or suspend the load. The person must also ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that:

  • no loads are suspended or travel over a person unless the plant is specifically designed for that purpose
  • loads are lifted or suspended in a way that ensures that the load remains under control during the activity.

Some common risk control measures can include but are not limited to the following examples. Consider using a mobile crane for the task rather than a front-end loader, where it is reasonably practicable to do so.

Specific controls

In relation to using other earthmoving plant to lift or suspend loads you need to ensure:

  • all lifting points on earthmoving plant form a closed eye, to which a load rated shackle may be attached. Check lifting eyes are load rated and tested. The attachment of lifting lugs to buckets is strongly discouraged due to potential damage to the lifting lug and difficulties being able to estimate how much load may be suspended from the lug (i.e. from the mass of the bucket and any spoil that is lodged inside the bucket)
  • when determining the allowable load to be lifted, the mass of any attachments, such as buckets or quick-hitch, must be deducted, unless the rated capacity chart allows otherwise. To ensure the stability of the mobile plant, the rated capacity of the plant must not be greater than:
    • 75% of tipping load in the stationary mode
    • 66% of tipping load in the pick-and-carry mode; or
    • 50% of tipping for articulated wheel loaders and tool carriers.
  • lifted loads are not to exceed the rated capacity specified by the plant manufacturer
  • lifting hooks on lifting chains are provided with operable safety latches
  • shackles used as permanent fittings are prevented from unscrewing (e.g. mousing or similar). Temporary shackles are done up tightly enough so they cannot inadvertently unscrew during the lift.

Quick couplers are frequently used to attach buckets to loaders. Whenever quick couplers are used to attach buckets to loaders, the quick coupler should be the type that ensures the bucket cannot inadvertently detach due to loss of hydraulic pressure or from the operator accidentally knocking a control. In addition, before attaching the bucket the operator should check that the holes into which the coupler pins engage are clear of any obstructions including dirt and dust.

Develop safe system of work

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 the following:

  • ensuring the plant is inspected, maintained and repaired according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications (the manufacturer's instructions must be included in a safe work procedure on how inspection and maintenance should be carried out. For example, does the equipment show any signs of excessive wear, damage or cracks to structural components such as excavator dipper arms, plant attachment points?)
  • ensure the operator has received adequate training and instruction in the use of the equipment. PCBU’s should assess and verify the operator’s knowledge and competence to operate the plant before they commence work. In some circumstances, the operator of the mobile plant may also need to hold the appropriate high risk work licence class
  • ensure the operator is familiar with the design, control layout, cabin functions and operating functions of the plant they are required to operate
  • using the load chart of the mobile plant to identify each lift point location, and the corresponding rated capacity for each position (unless there is one rated lifting capacity at maximum load radius for the plant). The appropriate load chart should be fixed inside the operator’s cabin or readily available to the operator
  • consider operational exclusion zones. Exclusion zones for earthmoving equipment should take into account the type of work being performed and the particular movement of the plant. The size of which must be based on a written risk assessment
  • ensuring all lifting gear is:
    • inspected for damage and wear by a competent person before each lift and receives a comprehensive inspection at periodical intervals (e.g. not exceeding 12 months for chain slings, more frequent for synthetic lifting slings)
    • tagged to identify the date of the lifting gear’s last inspection (documented maintenance records should be available at the workplace)
    • used for the appropriate loads being lifted, including adequate capacity and protection from sharp edges.
  • slinging loads - where the person responsible is required to exercise judgement in relation to the suitability and condition of lifting gear and the method of attaching the sling (including sling accessories) to the load or plant, then this person must hold a dogger’s high risk work (HRWL) licence. In addition, a dogger’s HRWL is required where the load is out of view of the plant operator
  • establish an effective method of communication between the operator and worker on the ground (e.g. two-way radios and hand signals) and ensure all workers are using or following the selected method of communication
  • all relevant information, training and instruction should be provided before work begins. Tool box meetings are one way to consult and discuss tasks with workers
  • any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment. For example: gloves, hard hats, protective footwear, eye protection, hearing protection.

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

More information

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