Maintaining worker safety around plant hydraulic systems

Friday, 28 February, 2020

Maintaining worker safety around plant hydraulic systems

In January 2020, a worker at a demolition site sustained a serious injury while greasing an excavator attachment that resulted in the amputation of the left leg below the knee. As a result, SafeWork SA has issued a safety alert about working near plant hydraulic systems. Plant is a major cause of workplace death and injury, as unsafe plant usage can lead to limbs amputated by unguarded moving parts; fractures from falls while accessing, operating or maintaining plant; electric shock from plant that is not adequately protected or isolated; and burns or scalds due to contact with hot surfaces. Plant usage can also lead to hearing loss and musculoskeletal disorders, caused by manually handling poorly designed plant.

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA), a person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must ensure that workers and other persons are not exposed to health and safety risks arising from the business or undertaking. This includes ensuring the provision and maintenance of safe plant, and the safe use, handling, storage and transport of plant. PCBUs are responsible for the management or control of plant, and must prevent unauthorised alterations to or interference with plant. PCBUs must also only use plant for its designated purpose, unless the proposed use does not increase risk or health or safety.

In order to manage risk, PCBUs should identify potential risks, and eliminate risks so far as is reasonably practicable. If eliminating the risk is not reasonably practicable, PCBUs must minimise the risk by implementing control measures. PCBUs must also maintain the implemented control measure, reviewing and revising it to maintain a safe work environment. All plant must also be inspected and maintained in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations.

PCBUs must also provide information, training or instruction to workers. When inspecting, maintaining or operating plant that uses hydraulic power, PCBUs must read the manufacturer’s instructions and follow all safety directions, performing inspection and maintenance with the attachment lowered. In the event of hydraulics failure or inadvertent operation of the hydraulics, PCBUs must ensure that workers are not in a position where they could be injured or crushed. When supporting the attachment, plant users must use lock pins or engineered design stands/props supplied by the manufacturer. If the plant has a back-up safety system, PCBUs must ensure it is correctly installed and must use it before entering a high-risk zone. If the plant does not have a safety system, PCBUs must use another system specified by the manufacturer, after ensuring that it is load rated and has adequate strength to withstand loads that are applied to it.

To reduce the risk of worker injuries and fatalities in the construction industry, SafeWork SA’s inspectors are undertaking compliance audits on Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) for high risk construction work (HRCW). WHS Regulations categorise 18 activities as HRCW, due to the serious potential for harm. One of the activities is work that is carried out in an area at a workplace in which there is any movement of powered mobile plant, such as excavators. SWMS are a strategy that can reduce the number of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry.

Image credit: ©Syda Productions/Dollar Photo Club

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