In March 2019, a worker suffered serious head injuries when a suspension air bag assembly ejected under pressure from a heavy vehicle in a mechanical workshop. Early investigations indicate the vehicle was raised on a hoist and the worker was underneath along with other workers disconnecting and removing suspension parts to allow access to a hard to reach spot in preparation for other maintenance tasks.
Following the removal of several parts, it appears pressure was still present within the air lines and air bag suspension system near the workers. For reasons unknown, the air bag assembly has ejected under pressure from under the vehicle with the metal base section striking the worker.
Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Performing work under an elevated load such as a heavy vehicle presents various hazards that require appropriate control measures. Removing components on a heavy vehicle that may be dislodged, unexpectedly move or eject under pressure while performing maintenance tasks, creates a number of risks especially where the vehicle maybe subjected to vibration or unintended movement.
Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) and persons with management or control (PWMC) of plant have duties to ensure the provision and maintenance of safe plant, as well as ensuring the inspection and maintenance of plant is carried out by a competent person in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions.
Implementation of higher order controls including a safety management system to manage the potential risks associated with inspection and maintenance of plant should be undertaken by the PCBU in consultation with workers. The safety management system needs to include documented risk assessments and work procedures in line with the manufacturer’s instructions to control the risks when working on, near or under vehicles.
A PCBU must also provide information, training and instruction to a worker that is suitable and adequate to:
- the nature of the work to be carried out by the worker
- the nature of the risks associated with the work (at the time the information, training or instruction is provided)
- the control measures implemented to deal with these risks
Prior to carrying out maintenance or repair work on plant, all energy sources should be identified and isolated to prevent unexpected movement or accidental start up. Typical energy sources found on plant include: electricity, fuel, stored mechanical energy, gravity, and fluids or gases under pressure (e.g. hydraulic oil or air). If the plant cannot be isolated, measures to prevent inadvertent operation should be implemented. Where there are specific requirements to ensure the risks from stored energy is controlled, the isolation procedure should include the information on steps required. For example, procedures for bleeding of pressure from all circuits or bleeding down of accumulators.
Each year since 2013, there have been on average 49 accepted workers’ compensation claims by automotive electricians or mechanics as a result of being struck by a falling or moving objects.
During the same period, there have been 202 notified incidents within an automotive mechanical workshop, with 646 statutory notices issued and three of these being Infringement notices totalling $9,360 in fines.
Prosecutions and compliance
In March 2017, a company was fined $125,000 in the Brisbane District Court following the death of a young worker. The worker was helping to remove a gas strut from a prototype boat rack on a trailer when it exploded, striking him above his right eye and penetrating his skull. Investigations revealed that the company had not developed a safe system of work for manufacturing and fabricating the boat rack and that a risk assessment had not been conducted for installing the struts.
In 2018 a company was fined $125,000 after a fourth year apprentice sustained severe leg injuries requiring amputation of the left leg below the knee while assisting in the repair of a backhoe. An experienced fitter/mechanic was attempting to jump start the engine of the backhoe and the injured worker was instructed to turn the ignition switch, which he did by leaning in through the frame where the rear window is usually positioned. When the engine started, this caused the hydraulic arm of the hoe (located at the rear of the vehicle) to slew to the left, pinning the injured worker’s leg between the boom and the body of the vehicle causing his injuries.