The Australian Work Health and Strategy – Safety and Design

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The Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy (2012–2022) vision is for safe, healthy and productive workers. It targets reducing work-related injuries, disease and fatalities for Australian workers.

As part of the first action area – “Healthy and safe by design”, Safework Australia has conducted a detailed study of 523 work-related fatalities from 2006-2011 and produced a detailed report of their findings.

Scope of the study

Of the 523 fatalities where enough information was available to determine the cause of death, they are broken into these categories:

  1. Unsafe design or design-related factors clearly contributed to 63 fatalities
  2. Design-related factors possibly contributed to 125 fatalities
  3. The remaining 335 were unrelated to unsafe design

With 188 fatalities within the scope of the study where design was determined as the main or contributing factor, the most common circumstances were:

  1. Inadequate guarding
  2. No roll-over protection or seat belts
  3. Lack of residual current device
  4. Lack of interlock
  5. Obstructed vision for driver

Safe design is a very broad topic. However, the study focussed only on fatal incidents that involved specific categories of tools, plant and machinery, workplace design, the workplace environment, how space is used and the way tasks are undertaken. The report focuses mostly on the industrial design-related characteristics and found that in most cases, the fatality may have been avoided if the workplace adhered to better work systems.

Safe procedures work if people adhere to them. Passive methods for protecting workers, those that require no input from the worker, are likely to work best. This means the best way of dealing with hazards is to remove them. This can often be done by implementing design changes to tools, machinery or plants.

Summary of report findings – most affected industries

The industries most affected by safety and design issues that were definitely proven or considered possible were:

  1. Agriculture, forestry and fishing
  2. Construction
  3. Manufacturing
  4. Transport, postal and warehousing
  5. Mining

Summary of report findings – most common categories

There are five common categories and a smaller number of other causes across a broader range of categories.

  1. Inadequate guarding

The most common category, resulting in 40 fatal incidents, was due to inadequate guarding. The types of equipment and machinery were varied. However, any hazardous machinery capable of trapping or entangling a worker should minimise that risk by having some form of guarding.

Elevating work platforms contributed to 7 fatalities and were due to workers being trapped or crushed. There are currently two main types of ‘anti-entrapment’ devices available. By fitting a frame to the basket, a safe zone is provided within the platform. Sensor bars or pads can stop the elevating work platform if the operator is pushed onto them.

Tractors, forklifts, hay balers and crushing, pressing and rolling equipment were cited in the deaths of workers.

Some findings of where adequate guarding may have prevented fatalities include:

  1. Use readily available, inexpensive guards on tractors to prevent clothing entanglement
  2. Guard grain intake with mesh grills to prevent becoming trapped in a grain auger
  3. Use a hay spike or clamps and fit a falling object protective structure to prevent crush injuries
  4. Use a safe access platform to prevent alighting into the path of the tractor
  5. To avoid being trapped, forklift operators should never place any part of their body through the front frame, but using some type of collapsing screen or guard may eliminate this hazard.
  6. Install protective guarding to crushing, pressing and rolling equipment to prevent incidents.
  1. No roll-over protective structures and seat belts

Lack of roll-over protective structure (ROPS) and seatbelts was found to be the cause of 28 fatal incidents. These involved quad bikes and tractors and almost all occurred on farms.

Of the 13 incidents involving quad bikes, most of the workers were pinned under the quad bike. ROPS may have prevented deaths. Using quad bikes on sloping ground, particularly with attachments such as spray tanks, was shown to be hazardous. In 5 of these incidents, the worker was not wearing a helmet.

Of the 11 incidents involving tractors, the tractors were not fitted with ROPS or seat belts.

  1. Lack of residual current device

A residual current device (RCD) can prevent electrocution by shutting off a device in milliseconds if it detects leakage to earth.

Although installation of RCDs is mandatory in many situations, 22 fatalities in this category may have been avoided if RCDs had been installed in the in the power circuits to which workers came into contact.

  1. Lack of interlock

Interlock mechanisms are designed to prevent the risk of accidentally turning on machinery or plant. Hazardous machinery and plant should have interlock mechanism fitted, whether sophisticated fail-safe systems or simply by locking the power source or controls with a key.

  1. Obstructed vision for driver

Most of the 15 work-related fatalities in this category were due to driver obstructed vision while reversing on worksites resulting in people being struck. As well as using reversing warning alarms, reversing cameras and proximity detectors can be fitted. In one instance, a truck’s reversing camera was not working. Other safety design measures may include using spotters, as reversing cameras are not fail-safe and are only effective if the driver uses them properly, as well as clear traffic management plans.

  1. Other causes

Fatalities occurred in several other categories:

  1. Malfunctioning or failed equipment
  2. Unapproved modifications
  3. Inadequate fall protection
  4. Poor control layout
  5. Runaway vehicle / parking brake
  6. Lack of high tension detection
  7. Lack of smoke / fire detection

The full report is available from the Safe Work Australia website.

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