Fatal roadside incident prompts safety alert
In April 2022, two motor mechanics were repairing a broken-down bus on the roadside when a passing vehicle hit the bus and both men were killed. Broken-down vehicles by the roadside can pose considerable safety risks. These are particularly prevalent when vehicles and people come together such as when towing is involved. Heavy vehicle recovery and repair can be high risk due to the nature of the work, environmental conditions, equipment requirements, time constraints and location of the immobilised vehicle.
Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. If an accident occurs, persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) will need to show the regulator that they have used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by the 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 the workplace. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest, providing a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. PCBUs are advised to work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, to eliminate the hazard, which is the most effective control.
PCBUs are required to control the risk associated with vehicle repair and recovery at the roadside. PCBUs should implement a safe system of work, in consultation with workers, to manage the potential risks associated with inspection, repair and recovery of vehicles. The safe system of work must include documented risk assessments to control the risks when working on, near or under vehicles at offsite locations. A safe system of work can include, but is not limited to, establishing exclusion zones around vehicles being recovered and adjoining areas to prevent people from approaching. The size of the exclusion zone should be based on a written risk assessment and may include areas that the breakdown mechanic, roadside assistance or other workers are not to enter due to proximity to active traffic lanes. If a vehicle breaks down, PCBUs should consider having it towed to a workshop for repairs to be carried out in a controlled environment.
The service vehicle should also be positioned to provide added traffic control and visual awareness of the site to any passing drivers. To achieve this, the vehicle should be parked slightly over and at a 45-degree angle to the breakdown vehicle to enhance visibility and provide a physical barrier between the work area and passing traffic.
A safe system of work also includes the development of safe work procedures that describe vehicle repair and recovery tasks that identify the hazards and document how the task is to be performed to minimise the risks. PCBUs then need to ensure that workers are instructed, trained and supervised in these procedures. This can also include ensuring drivers and other workers know what actions they are required to take in the event of a vehicle breakdown. In such instances, workers must pull the vehicle off the road where possible, turn on the vehicle’s hazard lights, apply (or set) the vehicle’s park brake, mark the area with portable warning triangles (or similar), and use (or set) wheels chocks.
PCBUs must also ensure that worker training, experience and competency is appropriate for the nature and complexity of the tasks to be carried out. Procedures and training should identify situations where it is necessary to stop work until safe access for any repairs and recovery can be established (this depends on the proximity of the vehicle to active traffic lanes and the nature of the work to be done). PCBUs must ensure that workers wear suitable personal protective equipment such as high visibility clothing and steel cap boots. Depending on the circumstances, PCBUs must also follow any applicable road rules.
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 put in place should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they work as planned.
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