Report exposes unsafe practices in heavy vehicle industry

By: Jason Whittaker

A report into falls from heights in the heavy vehicle industry has revealed a litany of safety issues across a

A report into falls from heights in the heavy vehicle industry has revealed a litany of safety issues across a range of sectors.

The National Falls from Heights in the Heavy Vehicle Sector Report, published by WorkCover New South Wales, examined occupational health and safety (OH&S) issues in the car carrier, tanker, dry bulk and livestock industries.

The report was compiled after inspectors from participating states and territories visited 528 workplaces across Australia. Tasmania was the only state not to participate.

During inspections, the types of notices handed to operators in regards to health and safety included issues of access, management systems, personal protective equipment, policies and procedures, risk assessment and training.

According to the report, the program's key objectives were to ensure compliance with OH&S, eliminate the risk of falls from heights, create awareness of legislation and implement safe work practices.

In the livestock industry alone, the report highlighted a maverick culture, whereby a majority of employers took a lax approach towards safety.

"Many employers appeared to rely in skill and experience of employees during loading and unloading of livestock rather than more adequate control measures for falls prevention," the report says.

The report found most livestock operators were owner-drivers who were at risk of injury due to the fact most used centre catwalks to traverse the tops of trucks.

"None of the centre catwalks observed were fitted with fall protection controls," the report says.

"Due to the variable nature of locations in which livestock is loaded and unloaded, there is the potential of coming into contact with overhead powerlines while working from the top of livestock transporters."

Furthermore, livestock operators had a low compliance level with safety regulations, according to the report.

However, it expected compliance levels to rise based on the interest the inspection program received from the livestock industry. The report says field days drew higher than expected numbers, while "many livestock transport companies have devised systems of work that eliminated working at height", such as the installation of harnesses on the side of vehicles.

The report also highlighted significant safety failings in the car carrier industry. It found drivers had to use parts of the carrier to reach the higher decks ­ about three metres off the ground ­ while those trucks fitted with ladders "did not have adequate hand hold mechanisms to assist with safely embarking on the platform of the deck".

Inspectors found operators were most at risk while on the upper decks of carriers.

"Drivers were required to stand on areas that were unprotected from the risk of falls while carrying out tasks associated with restraining or securing cars to the trailer or the truck," the report says.

But the report also levelled blame at car dealers, finding a number of dealers had inadequate loading and unloading areas.

Car carrier operators displayed a willingness to adopt new safety measures, such as introducing a shipping container design whereby cars would be raised into trucks using a hoist.

Operators also committed to upgrading their fleets so 90 percent of all new cars transported would be by car carriers fitted with fall protection measures. Conversely, the industry agreed to 40 percent only as far as used cars were concerned.

The tanker industry was somewhat of a success story in the area of safety, with inspectors finding about "98 percent of tanker companies visited had systems in place with regards to falls from heights".

Types of tankers inspected ranged from water tankers, septic waste tankers, grease waste tankers, elevated temperature tanks and petrol tankers.

The report found the majority of road tankers had metering devices installed, which meant drivers did not have to climb to the top of the tanker to take a dip reading.

It also revealed fall protection devices had been installed on the top of tankers, such as hand rails, restraint systems, platforms and gantries.

"At the conclusion of the program, operators with over 1,000 tanker vehicles have been inspected and are fitted with fall protection," the report says.

But inspectors found there were compatibility issues between infrastructure at some sites and pneumatically raised handrail systems attached to liquid vehicle tankers.

"The infrastructure, such [as] loading equipment, prevented the pneumatically operated handrail system from being raised, therefore providing no fall protection for the driver when accessing the top of the liquid road tanker," the report says.

The dry bulk sector, which included tankers carrying material such as sugar, grain, flour, cement and fly ash, was also commended for its focus on safety.

"It was observed that the majority [of] site loading facilities and the majority of pneumatic bulk vehicle contractors had systems in place regarding falls from heights," the report says.

The report says the program, as well as the involvement of the heavy vehicle industry, will decrease the likelihood of falls from heights.

The program was recommended by the Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities
(HOWSA) as a way of improving OH&S. It is ongoing and involves staff from state agencies such as WorkSafe and Workplace.

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