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Operator killed in bulldozer rollover

In October 2023, a plant operator was killed when the bulldozer he was operating, rolled at a construction site.

Initial investigations indicated vegetation was being cleared by the bulldozer in preparation for the construction of heavy-duty powerlines. While clearing vegetation in an area with steep inclines, the bulldozer appears to have rolled down a slope, ejecting the operator from the cabin which resulted in fatal injuries.

Investigations are continuing.

Safety issues

Operating powered mobile plant at construction workplaces exposes workers to a range of health and safety risks, including:

  • the plant overturning.
  • things falling on the operator of the plant.
  • the operator being ejected from the plant.
  • the plant colliding or coming into contact with, other workers, other vehicles or plant, energised powerlines, gas, or other underground services.
  • mechanical or other failures (i.e., hydraulic failures, release of hazardous substances).

Powered mobile plant may also present a risk if steps are not taken to prevent uncontrolled movement (for example rolling down a sloping surface), or unauthorised operation.

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

Employers and self-employed people are required to control the risks associated with mobile plant, including the risk of plant rollovers. Specific requirements relating to plant are located in the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011.

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

  • The mobile plant selected is the right machine for the task.
  • They have conducted a risk assessment of the workplace/site location in relation to plant operation.
  • Weather, ground conditions, and the intended travel pathway has been inspected and assessed to identify any problem areas (e.g., wet ground, sloping ground).
  • A suitable combination of operator protective devices for the plant is provided including:
    • An enclosed cabin.
    • A seat belt being provided and always worn by the operator.
    • The provision of a roll-over protective structure (ROPS) that complies with ISO 3471, Earth-moving machinery – Roll-over protective structures – Laboratory tests and performance requirements depending on the application.
  • The mobile plant is fitted with suitable safety features (e.g., rear-view mirrors, flashing lights and working automatic audible alarms).
  • The manufacturer's operating instructions have been read and are followed.
  • The mobile plant is not parked on a steep slope.
  • That the park brake is on and operating effectively before alighting the mobile plant.
  • The mobile plant is operated to suit the environmental conditions and slow enough to retain control in unexpected circumstances.

Develop a safe system of work for mobile plant:

  • Ensuring the manufacturer's instructions are included in a safe work procedure on how inspection and maintenance should be carried out.
  • Having plant operators conducting daily pre-start checks on the general condition and maintenance of the plant.
  • Ensuring the operator has received adequate training and instruction in the use of the plant:
    • PCBUs should assess and verify the operator’s knowledge and competence to operate the plant before they commence work.
    • Operators should be provided with familiarisation training to operate the specific make and model of plant being used, and attachments fitted to the plant.
    • Training should be documented and include a review of all safety features on the plant. It should be developed by the PCBU in consultation with workers and others in the workplace.
  • In some circumstances, the mobile plant operator may also need to hold the right high risk work licence.
  • Ensuring the mobile plant operator descends slopes cautiously, watching out for ditches, embankments, and depressions as unstable banks can cause rollovers.
  • When using a dozer to remove tree stumps on slopes, ensuring this is carried out by following a safe system of work that will help to ensure the dozer does not roll.
  • Ensuring the plant and any attachments are selected, used, inspected, maintained, and repaired according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications.

If working in a remote area or working alone, ensure good communications are in place – for example, assessing mobile phone coverage and using two-way radios.

Any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) which might include use of hard hats, steel cap boots, eye protection, hearing protection, and high visibility vests. 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 regularly reviewed to make sure they are effective.

More information

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