Safety alert issued after asphalt plant hits elevating work platform
WorkSafe Queensland is investigating an incident that occurred in February 2022, in which a worker suffered serious leg injuries when the basket of a boom-type elevating work platform (EWP) he was using was struck and pulled along by an elevated asphalt bin system, part of an asphalt plant. Initial enquiries indicated that the worker was in the EWP basket doing maintenance work close to the asphalt bin system when, for reasons yet to be established, the bin and associated components began moving along its tracks without warning. As a result, part of the EWP’s basket was caught by the asphalt bin system and dragged along, injuring the worker.
WorkSafe reports that workers doing maintenance, repairs, installations, and services and cleaning on machines have a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed through inadvertent operation of machinery they are working in, on or around. Plant and machinery pose significant risks to workers when moving parts are exposed, including crushing or shearing points, being trapped by the mechanism of the machinery or equipment through poor isolation of energy sources or stored energy, or by coming into contact with moving parts during testing, inspection, operation, maintenance, cleaning or repair.
Accidental start-up or movement of a machine mechanism can also occur if control levers or buttons are bumped or knocked, or if a short circuit of the control system occurs. EWPs are used in many situations which present unique hazards to the operator, including powerlines, trees, surrounding buildings and structures. Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. If an incident occurs, business owners 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.
Using the hierarchy of controls can help business owners decide how to eliminate and reduce risks. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. Business owners are advised to work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control. A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must eliminate risks arising from plant in the workplace; if that is not reasonably practicable, they must minimise the risks. This includes complying with any requirements under work health and safety legislation in relation to the work.
Before accessing any parts of plant for cleaning, maintenance or repairs, all hazards must be identified and adequately controlled. Effective control measures for maintaining plant often comprise a combination of controls. A safe system of work should be implemented to manage the risks associated with inspection and maintenance of plant. This could include ensuring that the plant is inspected, maintained and repaired according to the manufacturer’s recommendations and specifications, and that all energy sources likely to activate the machinery and equipment and expose people to hazards are identified prior to work beginning. An isolation procedure should also be developed, to be followed by workers when they are performing maintenance, repair and cleaning of plant. This involves isolating potentially hazardous energy so the plant does not move or start up accidentally. Isolating plant may also ensure entry to a restricted area is controlled while the specific task is being carried out.
Developing and implementing a lock-out process can be another effective isolation procedure. This process should include shutdown of machinery and equipment, identification of all energy sources, isolation points and other hazards, isolation of all energy sources, controlling or de-energising all stored energy, and using a device that effectively locks out the isolation points. For example, switches with built-in locks and lock-out circuit breakers, chains, safety lock-out jaws and safety padlocks. There should be no duplicate key for any lock, except a master key that is kept in a secure location and which should only be used in an emergency. If more than one energy source needs to be isolated to enable safe shutdown of the plant, the single key to each lockout device should be held by the same person.
When tagging machinery controls, energy sources and other hazards, the tags should only be used as a means of providing information to others at the workplace. A tag should not be used on its own as an isolation device — only a lock is effective in isolating the energy source. The lock-out process should also include testing by ‘trying’ to reactivate the plant without exposing the tester or others to risk.
WorkSafe encourages PCBUs to ensure there is sufficient space for safe access to the plant for maintenance, repair or cleaning activities. A process should also be implemented to enable effective communication and consultation with workers and others to prevent any risks arising from restarting plant operation when plant has been shut down due to inspection, maintenance or cleaning. PCBUs should also determine what special skills are required for people who operate the plant or carry out inspection and maintenance, including preventive maintenance. Workers using the plant should receive adequate information, training, instruction and supervision.
When using an elevated work platform, PCBUs are advised to check the work area for hazards before starting work, such as the location of buildings, towers, sheds and other types of structures within or near the EWP’s work zone. PCBUs must ensure that operators are fully aware of their surroundings while they’re working, with distractions such as conversations with others workers to be avoided. Supervisors and spotters should be trained and onsite when an EWP is in use, to help the operator navigate difficult obstructions. The control measures put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.
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