QLD: safety warning issued after operator killed by reversing telehandler

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Saturday, 17 April, 2021 - 13:45
Policy & legislation

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland recently issued a safety alert following an incident in which a worker on private property was fatally injured when a telehandler ran over him. Early investigations show the telehandler was loading a crop-dusting plane with fertiliser at a private airstrip on the property when the operator reversed it over a worker.

Telehandlers, short for telescopic handlers, are versatile hydraulic lifting units often used in the construction, farming and agriculture sectors.

Modern telehandlers are manoeuvrable hybrid units that offer the load-lifting capabilities of a forklift with the lifting range of a crane. Units are equipped with a telescopic boom that can be fitted with a range of attachments to allow a variety of functions.

The alert recommended a number of possible control measures to prevent similar incidents and said employers and self-employed people are required to control the risk associated with the mobile plant, including the risk of pedestrians being struck by telehandlers.

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

  • it is right for the task and is fitted with suitable safety features (e.g. rear-view mirrors and reversing warning device)
  • a traffic management plan has been designed and implemented, including identifying suitable exclusion zones and communicating these to everyone in the vicinity before work starts
  • the use of a spotter where required, including suitable means of communication between the spotter and operator (e.g. two-way radio) to assist with the safe movement of the plant, particularly where there may be blind spots or other workers in the vicinity
  • ground conditions and the intended travel pathway have been inspected and assessed to identify any problem areas e.g. sloping ground
  • there is adequate lighting to safely operate the plant
  • if outdoors, the effect of adverse weather conditions (e.g. reduced visibility) has been considered
  • any workers around the mobile plant are aware of operator blind spots and exclusion zones
  • the mobile plant is fitted with and has a working audible reverse warning device
  • a suitable combination of operator protective devices for the plant is provided
  • the manufacturer's operating instructions have been read and are followed. For older items of the mobile plant where operating instructions are not available, operational procedures and instructions for use should be developed by a competent person
  • untrained or inexperienced workers do not operate the vehicle, particularly in unfamiliar or high-risk terrain or for unfamiliar tasks.

The alert also said a traffic management plan should be developed by the PCBU in consultation with workers and others in the workplace. Everyone affected by the plan must understand it and follow it.
An effective traffic management plan includes broad types of control measures to:

  • keep vehicles and people apart
  • limit vehicle movements or speed
  • avoid the need for reversing vehicles
  • provide a safe area for the driver
  • provide clear signage road/area markings
  • ensure effective workplace communication.

The best way to protect pedestrians is to make sure people and vehicles cannot interact. This can be achieved by not allowing vehicles into pedestrian spaces or not allowing pedestrians into vehicle operating areas.

However, this may not always be reasonably practicable. If people and vehicles cannot be separated, consider:

  • barriers or guardrails at building entrances and exits to stop pedestrians walking in front of vehicles
  • high impact traffic control barriers
  • temporary physical barriers
  • separate, clearly marked footpaths or walkways e.g. using lines painted on the ground or different coloured surfacing
  • clearly marked pedestrian routes and intersections unobstructed, well maintained and well lit
  • using spotters.