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Fatality of skid steer loader operator

In June 2023, a worker was using a skid steer loader with a bucket attached (the loader) while performing yard work. Early investigations showed the worker had lowered the bucket of the loader and entered the bucket. At the time, the engine of the loader was still running, while he was standing in the bucket and leaning into the cabin conducting maintenance. It appears the bucket was then raised, carrying the worker up with it. During the course of the movement, the worker became trapped between the front of the roof turret and part of the hydraulic arms and/or bucket.

Safety issues

Mobile plant including skid steer loaders can pose potential serious risks to operators or other people nearby, including:

  • The plant colliding or contacting people or objects like other vehicles or plant and energised powerlines.
  • The plant moving in an uncontrolled or unexpected manner.
  • The plant overturning.
  • Objects falling on the operator.
  • The operator being ejected from the plant.
  • Mechanical or other failures (hydraulic failures, release of hazardous substances).

Plant, including skid steer loaders, that uses hydraulics to assist in its movement has the potential to cause serious injury or death. It is used in many industries for trucks and transport, construction plant and equipment, farming machinery, manufacturing equipment and amusement rides. The potential energy in hydraulic equipment can be extremely high as it is used to shift and support large loads.

Serious crush injuries can result from normal movement of the hydraulic equipment, and when hydraulic systems fail, falling loads or unexpected moving parts are extremely dangerous. Plant mechanisms or equipment can cause injury through rapid or slow movement, which may occur without the worker being aware of the danger.

Ways to manage health and safety

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

PCBUs must ensure all plant is safe and inspected and maintained by a competent person in accordance with manufacturer's recommendations.

A safe system of work should be implemented to manage the risks associated with inspection and maintenance of plant. The manufacturer's instructions should be included in a safe work procedure on how inspection and maintenance should be carried out. PCBUs must also provide information, training, and instruction to a worker that is 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.

When operating any plant that uses hydraulic power:

  • Always read the instructions provided by the manufacturer and follow all safety directions.
  • Never place yourself or others in a position where you could be crushed in the event of hydraulics failure or inadvertent operation of the hydraulics.
  • Inspect and check the plant before use, including that the safety systems are working correctly (e.g., skid steer control interlocking devices; restraint bar switch, seat pressure sensor, seat belt switch).
  • Never carry out inspection or maintenance on the plant while the engine is running, particularly the controls.
  • Never enter or exit the loader with the lift arms raised, unless the support bar safety device is correctly fitted to prevent the arm from lowering.
  • Always remove attachments before raising the lift arms and install the support bar, if required to do so for accessing the plant for maintenance.
  • Always lower the bucket of a skid steer loader and turn the engine off before exiting the cabin.
  • Never bypass safety systems, unless this is temporarily required for a particular maintenance task and is in accordance with the manufacturer’s information.
  • If a manufacturer’s purpose-designed safety bar is not provided on, or is missing from the plant, make sure you obtain the manufacturer’s safety bar, or use another system that is specified by the manufacturer (and is load rated and has adequate strength to safely withstand any loads that could be applied to it).
  • Ensure workers working on, near, or under hydraulics are adequately trained and supervised.

Before operating any piece of mobile plant, the person with management or control of it must ensure:

  • the plant selected for the work is:
    • suitable for the task
    • fitted with appropriate safety features (e.g., skid steer control interlocking devices, restraint bar switch, seat pressure sensor, seat belt switch)
    • maintained in a safe condition, including all safety features are correctly adjusted and operating correctly.

More generally, the person with management or control must ensure:

  • The design and implementation of a traffic management plan, including identifying suitable exclusion zones and communicating these to workers and other people in the vicinity before tasks are carried out.
  • The use of a spotter where required, including suitable means of communication between the spotter and operator (using two-way radio) to assist with the safe movement of the plant, particularly where there may be blind spots or other workers or people in the vicinity.
  • Ground conditions and the intended travel pathway have been inspected and assessed to identify any problem areas (sloping ground or soft/uncompacted ground).
  • There is adequate lighting to safely operate the plant.
  • If outdoors, adverse weather conditions, including reduced visibility, have been considered.
  • The person with management or control of the mobile plant must ensure it has a warning device to alert people who may be at risk from the movement of the plant.
  • The manufacturer's operating instructions have been read and are followed.
  • Untrained or inexperienced workers should not operate the plant, particularly in unfamiliar or high-risk terrain or for unfamiliar tasks.
  • Relevant information, training, instruction and supervision necessary to control the risks associated with the plant is provided.
  • Training programs should be practical and ‘hands on’ and take into account 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.
  • Workers who drive road registered vehicles hold the appropriate type of license to drive that vehicle, irrespective of whether the vehicle is operated on a public road, worksites, or private property.
  • Workers who operate vehicles, other than road registrable vehicles, are provided with familiarisation training on the specific make and model of vehicle.
  • Familiarisation training and competency assessment on the particular make and model of the plant should be documented.

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

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