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Preventing workers falling from trucks

Falls from heights remains one of the most common causes of injuries and fatalities in the transport industry.

As a result, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ) has made preventing falls from trucks, trailers, and on-site a major focus since 2013.

Presented by Grant Phillips, this webinar provides businesses with practical information to help them better manage their own falls risks, including:

  • the injuries occurring in the transport industry from falls
  • the three areas where falls are commonly occurring
  • how WHSQ is addressing falls
  • the resources used to help workplaces identify and manage their falls risks
  • practical examples of how other businesses have tackled a falls risk

With 16 years' experience, Grant specialises in the research of contemporary occupational safety issues, resulting in the development and roll out of state-wide campaigns and events associated with improving safety in the transport industry.

Download a copy of this film (ZIP/MP 7MB)


Welcome everyone to our webinar about preventing workers falling from trucks. My name is Mano Raghavan. I'm the Principal Advisor for Manufacturing, Transport and Logistics Strategy Group from Workplace Health and Safety and I'll be your Facilitator for today's session.

This webinar will focus on a recently run campaign in Queensland on preventing workers falling from trucks. We anticipate that today's session will go for approximately 30 minutes and the topics covered will include mechanisms of fall incidents within the transport industry, results of the campaign including results of Workplace Health and Safety Inspectors' visits to workplaces to identify the risk related to falls from trucks and trailers, some suggested control measures to prevent risk of falls from trucks and trailers, the various types of resources available for the transport industry and also towards the end we'll have time for questions.

I now have the pleasure of introducing my co-worker Grant Phillips who is our presenter for today's webinar. Grant has been working with Workplace Health and Safety for over 16 years in a variety of roles including electrical licensing, compliance, equipment safety and policy. For the last five years Grant has been working with the Manufacturing, Transport and Logistics Strategy Group as a Senior Project Officer. He has been lead on the research, development and management of the state-wide campaign for preventing workers falling from trucks. I'll now hand over to Grant to get us started.

Grant Phillips:

Right. Good day everyone. Thanks for attending. Originally this all began in late 2013 and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland began an internal review on falls. Basically this was from a Safe Work Australia report titled Work-related Injuries and Fatalities Involving a Fall From Height. This basically stated that between 2009 and 2011 in the transport industry there were in fact 3,100 serious injury claims from falls from trucks with more than 12 fatalities and around 50 per cent of the falls claims having six weeks of time off work which is quite substantial.

Because of the high risk, high rate I should say of serious injuries and fatalities from falls from trucks and trailers we began consulting with transport operators, owner drivers, businesses and also our transport safety networks. After this consultation Workplace Health and Safety Queensland began researching about falls in the transport industry and its supply chain in 2013. As a result this became a priority focus area in our Road Freight Industry Action Plan for 2017 which was titled Working at Height. After our research and discussions held with industry at the Transport Safety Network meetings, three common areas where falls were occurring in the transport industry were identified. These were drivers working on the truck, cleaning the truck or getting in and out of the truck, workers or drivers walking on the trailer, working on the trailer and climbing on and off the trailer, and finally around the depot or the site where their truck or trailer is parked. As a result of this a campaign was proposed to begin addressing three areas to try and help reduce falls related incidents.

There were a number of different approaches undertaken during the campaign based on our research. These mainly included 30 workshops targeting the transport industry with about 400 attendees coming to that - we gathered a lot of information about the industry from that one – 12 mini case studies on industry initiatives, two industry forums focusing on design issues and a short film.

However the two primary approaches were 145 workplace assessments and 12 toolbox-style discussions on site.

The 145 workplace assessments conducted by our inspectors aim to promote the key falls risks messages and provide guidance directly to workplaces and to take a snapshot of the transport industry practices using an observational checklist to record the risks and hazards. After these assessments we analysed the data gathered and identified that more than 30 per cent of the assessments had high risk activities, risk taking behaviours and poor vehicle and trailer design observed by the inspectors which we would consider quite high.

When the 30 per cent is broken down we noted there was 16 per cent of the high risks were around the cab and astoundingly 71 per cent was around the trailers, and 11 per cent at ground level. The assessments also revealed that high risks were evident across all types of freight tasks including vehicle and trailer types and at sites throughout the supply chain such as depots, warehouse, retail and rural sites.

When looking at trucks the high risks observed during the workplace assessments included there were no three points of contact to the entry of the cabs, workers were climbing at height to perform mechanical maintenance and start-up checks on the truck, and drivers were climbing at height to clean the trucks. There were also a lot of design problems associated with truck cabs such as the trucks weren't at the right height and making it awkward for the driver to get in.

Trailers actually had the highest amount of risk observed and were mostly related to poorly designed ladders and steps at 14 per cent, workers climbing at height onto the trailer to secure loads, workers climbing on top of the trailer where there are unprotected openings with no fall protection, ladders or steps unsafely located on the trailer plus the lack of access to the trailer often forced workers to use fuel tanks or tyres to climb up which can be quite slippery.

The risks we saw during the assessments at ground level around vehicles and trailers indicated that workers had to walk on surfaces around load areas and ramps contaminated with water, diesel, mud or ice. Loading bays and ramps often seemed to have a lot of ground hazards which could result in slips, trips or falls. But a lot of the steps and access areas around loading bays and ramps were considered unsafe.

After the outcomes of the assessments Workplace Health and Safety Queensland conducted 12 toolbox talk style discussions on sites basically to discuss the risk of falls using a simple risk identification tool that we had developed. This would basically help enable these businesses to review their own falls risks and come up with practical ideas and solutions to control the risk of falls.

The recommended makeup of this group would normally consist of drivers, a mechanic from the workshop, a WHS Officer or Advisor who would act as the coordinator and someone from the management team like a supervisor or a team leader.

These workplaces also required a truck and trailer to be on site for the group to assess. This is quite essential as the group would walk around and identify the risks.

So how was the tool used? Well the first step was to identify potential falls risks. WHSQ staff and a senior representative from the workplace would lead a group around the vehicle and trailer to try and find risks and tick them off on the tool pictured in that slide. During this process we would help workers consider things such as the type of activities that are carried out on or around the truck or trailer, the behaviours of the workers when they interact with the truck and trailer, for example carrying a cup of coffee while getting in and out of the cab and the design of the truck and trailer.

Step two was to write an action plan to prioritise the falls risks. So the groups would return to a meeting room to discuss their findings and would collectively agree on the falls risk priority. Then they would discuss controls to mitigate this risk which could include documenting any interim controls and long-term solutions and timeframes to introduce the changes. This same group had regular meetings to review the agreed outcomes.

The following three examples of what some businesses came up with during these on-site discussions which cover off on the main three focus areas that we discovered during our research which include the cab of the truck, the trailer and at ground level. What you'll see here reflects the practical examples of businesses which reduce the risk of falls for their drivers and workers, often in a practical manner.

During the first visit that we did to a workplace for an on-site discussion, drivers identified some of the following risks with the cab of their trucks. One was that the internal handholds on some of their trucks were very hard to see. This was an issue for them because these handholds were part of the three points of contact to climb in and out of the truck cab. Most of the drivers said that they couldn't see the internal handhold especially at night. They ended up using the inside of the door to climb up which was not designed to support the weight of a driver.

So what did they do? After evaluating their options the mechanics trialled changing the colour of the handholds to yellow with a relatively inexpensive and long-lasting paint on the highest risk trucks. The feedback from the drivers indicated that they were using the more visible handholds. But since then they have actually become retrofitting their business fleet with this safety feature and also incorporated this change into their regular vehicle maintenance program.

During our next visit to a workplace the workers there identified some risk with their trailers, that basically that their trailers had unsafe ladders or no ladders at all mounted on the tippers. The drivers highlighted this as a risk as they frequently need to climb up to inspect the load or make an adjustment.

The mechanics and drivers through consultation provided a range of solutions and these included the simple things – adding high visible, non-slip material to the rungs of the existing ladders to make them easier to climb up, but more importantly installing new and safer designed ladders in comparison to the ones pictured. They also attached three points of contact stickers next to the ladders and near the doors on the trucks as a reminder for drivers and crucially providing refresher training during the toolbox talks for drivers and workshop staff on how to use the ladders safely.

This workplace on this slide identified falls risk at ground level and this is basically from slipping on waste material on and around the wash bays.

This workplace reviewed their waste removal process from the wash bay to try and find a solution. The workers identified that a safe access system could be installed. It was also proposed that waste materials which build on wash bay stairs be cleaned when the wash bay is cleaned itself. Work instructions were also prepared for washing the truck on how to operate the wash bay and subsequently toolbox talks were used to explain these new work instructions to workers.

So just to recap on some of the falls risks and suggested ways to manage them that our inspectors have observed and also that we've seen, some risks that we have seen around the cab of the truck would include slippery handholds such as the chrome one pictured, using the bull bar as a ladder where workers often climb up to wash the truck or remove bugs etc.

Some other risks around the cab can also include hard to see handholds as demonstrated in this industry. I found it hard to see where the hand holds are. So you can see the driver is using the inside of the door which is not designed for that purpose. Also climbing up to hard to reach parts of the truck to clean or perform mechanical maintenance which is a common activity. Poorly maintained trucks with serious defects can often lead to a fall and one of the bigger ones is the first step to the truck can often be too high off the ground just because of the design of the truck itself.

Some examples that we've seen from industry to reduce or eliminate the risk with the cab can include improving the grip on the footholds which is a simple solution, ensuring that there are three points of contact to assist the driver in entering the cab. Also installing the handholds and footholds at a suitable height.

Some other solutions we have also seen from industry for the cab of trucks included attaching a cheap LED work light to the steps of the vehicle so when the door is open it shines a light on the steps and the ground at night. Also designing or modifying the truck so that maintenance and cleaning can be done at ground level.

Some factors that we have seen that can add to the risk of falls from trailers have included climbing and walking on the top of the trailer where there are unprotected edges, climbing at height over or around oversized loads, workers climbing at height to secure the load, also jumping down from the trailer which surprisingly causes a fair amount of injuries. Also using the wheels as steps.

Some other risks around the trailer can also include poorly designed ladders or steps or ladders or steps that are unsafely located on the trailer which you can see there in the image that sometimes that might not be the best spot for that based on the load position.

Some examples that we've seen from industry to reduce or eliminate the risks around trailers have included a mobile work platform to eliminate the need to climb onto the load. These can be expensive however we have found them to be effective. Also arranging the load so workers have no need to climb up on the trailer to secure it.

Some more solutions that we have seen in industry for trailers include simply pallet jacking freight so there is no need to climb up on the trailer. Also designing or modifying the trailer surface with a slip-resistant material, something that can be done cheaply. Using, designing or modifying the load area so the worker does not need to climb up.

Some other factors that we've seen around that can add to the risk of falls at ground level can include walking on surfaces around load areas and ramps that are contaminated with water, diesel or mud which is quite common. Also walking on poorly designed surfaces and access steps around load areas and ramps.

Other risk examples can include walking in poor weather conditions, at night or in direct sunlight or shadows. Sloping ground, uneven and slippery surfaces we've found also can cause injuries.

Some ways that we've seen from industry to reduce or eliminate those types of risks is a simple traffic management plan. Manage your foot traffic by clearly marking out where they should be walking and the most safe area. Also making sure that they're wearing the correct footwear for conditions. Some drivers might be wearing thongs or whatever and they may not be considered suitable.

Other solutions around the site could include just having your sales team conduct a site visit and then they can assess the suitability of the customer site and put that in the new contract which often includes a site map so drivers know where to go and where it's safe. Also advise and support drivers to contact their depot if they have concerns with the site. Installing non-slip surfaces where spillages are likely to occur and also look at ways to prevent spillages in the future. Also ensuring loading bays and ramps are adequately lit and protected from the elements.

So I think that ends my part. Off over to Mano.


Thank you Grant for sharing the Preventing Falls from Trucks campaign with us. We have allocated time for participants to forward their questions related to this campaign. If you have any specific questions please type them in the chat box or question and answer box.

Grant while waiting for participants' questions I have a question for you:

Q:'What advice would you give to a medium to small size transport company that don't have dedicated safety resources to be able to go through a similar risk management process?'

Grant Phillips:

Yep. Well I'll say that's a great question, not just because it's coming from you Mano.


Okay, thank you.

Grant Phillips:

But what we've found is the larger organisations and businesses already have existing safety management systems. So when you get owner drivers or small transport operators they don't have the time or the resources to be able to implement a full safety management system. So that's what we found when we were doing our research. So as part of that we looked at developing a straightforward risk identification tool, two pages long that any business could pick up and use essentially because we realised that owner drivers are pretty busy and they might not have the time to be able to go out and do a full system. So yeah, that's where we kind of targeted this campaign essentially.


Okay. Thanks Grant. It looks like we have got one question here from our participants. And the question is:

Q:'I noticed that a lot of the handholds and footholds use the yellow colour. Is that a government requirement?'

Grant Phillips:

That's interesting. I mean it's not personal preference yet yellow is probably known as the colour that is quite striking and it provides a lot of contrast. You'll probably notice yellow is used in like public transport quite highly. So you know, it's something that's understood as a good colour to use for that. However if you had an alternative, I mean by all means – I don't think we have any particular requirement about the colour.


Okay. Thank you.

We have got another one here:

Q:'I'm not sure where or how to get information from other businesses about practical ways that they have looked at their falls risk?'

Grant Phillips:

I mean to be honest and I think looking at our campaign is probably a good start and it's not just because I created it but there is a lot of good information there that's borne out of a three year campaign based on evidence. We've developed the tools. I mean one other way would be to link in with our transport safety networks who you know, like-minded businesses can discuss their own issues and solutions. Yep.


Yes. We have got another one here. Thanks for that, for answering that question Grant.

Q:'Can you comment on a driver's age and general health that would impact the statistics, for example my grandfather fell from a truck cabin working at the age of 77 and broke their hip amongst other things and I have?'

Grant Phillips:

Yeah. That's actually something we consider in this whole process. So the average age I think for a driver is about 55 and quite often they'll have unhealthy sort of conditions. So they might be a little bit overweight or something like that. So what we found is the height of the footholds would affect and where the placement of the handholds, would affect the way a driver could enter and exit a truck. Now what we had earlier when I was talking about using the inside of the door, what came out of that one was the driver used the plastic section of the inside of the door and it broke away and fell because he was a bit overweight. I think he broke his leg or his shoulder or something along those lines. So the statistics are represented highly on people of that age group. So 55 to 65 is probably where it's sitting at the moment. So I think the design of vehicles either after market or through manufacturers need to consider that.


Okay. Thank you. Thank you for that. We've got another question here:

Q:'Earlier on you touched on the risk assessment tool. Where do we get the forms?'

Grant Phillips:

Okay. Like the risk identification tool?


Yeah. Risk identification.

Grant Phillips:

The information for that will be on the end slide. That will include the campaign page, the risk identification tool, general guidance and a film.


Okay. Fantastic. Thank you. I've got another here. That's right, yep.

Q:'How long did the risk identification and mitigation process take for those businesses involved and also how long did the business take to implement their solutions?'

Grant Phillips:

Yeah. So basically what happened during the 12 visits, they took from one hour to an hour and a half which is surprisingly quick. Basically we would rock up to the workplace, get the group together, go to their truck and trailer, get the guys to tick off on the list of what falls risks that they saw, quickly come back with the group, come up with a priority falls risk and a solution and then agree to the timeframe. So the drivers and the mechanics would say 'I think this is the falls risk.' The mechanics would go 'I think it's going to take three weeks to come up with a design or a solution' and then the manager would go 'Yes, I agree to that.' So you might say two weeks for the drivers to go around and you know, think of solutions with the workshop. The workshop would be approximately – it could be four weeks and then manager approval. The way that that tool was designed, it kind of locks management into agreeing to following through which we've found that that quite often doesn't happen.


Yep. I think we have got about three questions that are related to designs of trucks and all of that. Can you elaborate on truck designs and what's Workplace Health and Safety doing in that?

Grant Phillips:

Yeah. So truck design is something that we're looking at in a project actually, essentially and what we do is so, well I've been doing for any campaign that we run, all of the research, the evidence, the consultation with industry through the networks or whatever, we gather all that information from industry, compare it with best practice and what we've learnt from our work site visits. All the design issues we collate and we feed that into the truck design project. Then those guys will be putting that information to other regulators and I'll be doing that for a future campaign on safely immobilising vehicles. I think I'll be incorporating that into all my future projects because truck design is a pretty big issue. We're seeing a lot of after market modifications that maybe should just be part of a vehicle, like a handbrake alert or you know, the fifth wheel should have some sort of alert so you know your vehicle's coupled or decoupled.


So in other words we are…

Grant Phillips:

We are, yes.


Okay. Thanks Grant. Thank you for that.

Grant Phillips:

That's okay. So yes. Yes we are.



Waiting for a few more.

Okay, yep.

Okay. We have another one:

Q:'Is there a maximum height for the first step when entering the cab?'

Grant Phillips:

I don't think so. I could find out though. So what it is basically is there's kind of two competing areas. There's Workplace Health and Safety Queensland which we have a set of regulations and then there's Transport and Main Roads and others who have other regulations about how things should be designed because the vehicle is a workplace but it's also a functioning sort of plant. So it has to follow certain things around road rules and lengths and widths through the Australian design rules. So I'm not sure what the answer to that one is, but I might take that on notice. I could find out.


Okay. That's good.

We've got another one here. I think we may have to get back to them. He's got here:

Q:'What are the methods used to decrease the risk of climbing real ladders on tankers?'

Grant Phillips:

Where's that? Yeah. Usually what we've found is tanker ladders typically probably aren't the best design. So the rungs are circular and quite thin. In that previous slide we kind of, where what they did temporarily was put a kind of a piece of material so it wasn't just chrome and to provide some grip. But that wasn't a long term solution. So I think they've actually gone through and designed new ladders. Yeah.


The other thing too is that workplaces should be doing their own risk identification and assessment process.

Grant Phillips:

Definitely, yeah.


Then look at what the best method. If you don't need the worker to climb on the rear…

Grant Phillips:

Well that as well, yeah.


…they shouldn't be.

Grant Phillips:

Yes. I'll add to that. Obviously as the regulator we would go through the hierarchy of controls. So we would say if you can eliminate the risk, so eliminate the need to use the ladders, that's ideal. Next you might do a design solution if you can. But obviously we have to deal in practicalities about what the business can or can't do.


Okay. Thank you and I think this other question is similar to the one that we answered previously.

Q:'What percentage of falls and incidents are related to older drivers?'

I think you've answered that.

Grant Phillips:

No. I didn't.



Grant Phillips:

In that report at the start the Safe – where is it - The Work-related Injuries and Fatalities Involving a Fall from Height which is from Safe Work Australia, that's on the slides, the fourth slide. I think that breaks it down into actual like numbers and stats at that age and that sort of thing.


I have a question here about – I will take one more question:

Q:'Can we receive a copy of your presentation?'

I'll answer that. Yes. Towards the end of this session what we will do is we'll have that on our website, our Workplace Health and Safety website and that will be available to all of you and also the recording of this webinar as well. Okay.

Grant Phillips:

Definitely, yep.


We are now almost at the end of the webinar. We are really pushed for time here. If your question was not answered today what we will do is we will take most of the questions and get back to all of you via email. For those of who still like to ask questions please forward your questions to this – to this email in the next slide.

To this email on this slide here and we will provide a response to you as soon as possible.

We also encourage all of you to go to the Workplace Health and Safety website and watch the short film and also read the industry campaign report to see what else was discovered during the campaign which includes small industry initiatives as well.

We also encourage you to use the preventing workers falling from trucks risk identification tool for your workplaces and as I mentioned earlier, we will send all participants a copy of the presentation slides and the recording of the webinar will be made available on the Workplace Health and Safety website as soon as possible. Once again thank you and hope to see you at our next Transport Safety Network Meeting.

Bye for now.

Grant Phillips:

Thanks guys.

[End of Transcript]