Beware Risks associated with Towing Trailers

WorkCover NSW has recently issued a safety alert for workers and persons conducting businesses or undertakings (PCBYs) to beware of the risks associated with towing trailers, especially when the plant or vehicle used to tow is not designed for that purpose.

WorkCover were prompted to issue the alert after an incident occurred where a worker received fatal crush injuries after a trailer rolled forward unexpectedly and crushed him. The accident happened on a worksite in March this year.

The worker and the trailer’s owner who was a visitor to the site were preparing to tow the trailer with a tractor crane. The trailer’s air brake system was connected to an air receiver installed on the tractor crane and the crane engine was started so as to build pressure in the air receiver.

The worker was connecting the trailer to the crane, when sufficient air pressure built up and released the trailer’s brakes, causing the trailer to roll forward and strike the worker, causing to him to be fatally injured.

This is what Workcover went on to say about the situation:

The incident resulted from releasing the brakes without first securing the trailer from unplanned movement. It is noted, however:

The worker was preparing to connect the trailer to the hook of a crane via a chain. Even if connected, the chain would only have limited the trailer movement, not prevented it.

The crane had been modified by adding an air receiver. There were no controls on the air receiver outlet, so once connected to the air brake system on the trailer there was no mechanism for controlling when the brakes on the trailer would release (ie they would release once the system came up to release pressure).


The alert issued last week warns people about the potential risks involved when towing trailers with plant or machinery that are not designed to specifically undertake that task.

WorkCover warns persons that when undertaking plant operations they should ensure that health and safety risks to workers and others are eliminated. If this is not possible, they should attempt to minimise the risk as much as possible.

Employers should consult with workers when conducting hazard identification and when planning how to eliminate or reduce risks, as well as when developing safe work method statements.

Workplace Health and Safety Regulations require employers and principal contractors with control of plant and machinery to take all the reasonable steps to ensure that they are used for the purpose for which it has been designed.

WorkCover has also warned that the assessment of the risk should be undertaken by a competent person, qualified to do so.

The WorkCover alert then goes on to provide Specific Control Measures that can be undertaken:

Trailers should be secured against unwanted movement at all times, unless coupled to a towing unit that provides this security – for example, by having a fail to safe-state brake system or using wheel chocks.

Where practicable, use plant that is purpose designed for the task being undertaken – for example, trailers should be towed using a powered towing unit or a prime mover that provides a positive connection between the two, and has a compatible mechanism for controlling brake release.

Before towing a trailer with a non-positive method of towing, first consider whether such action is necessary – for example, while repairing a trailer it may be possible to use mobile welding equipment rather than tow the trailer to a workshop.

Care should be taken when towing requires a trailer to ‘freewheel’ (ie move with the braking system bypassed).

Because such action relies on the braking power of the towing unit alone, this should be avoided unless the towing vehicle is capable of providing the additional braking.

Read the full alert at


Guarding Failure Inexcusable

It seems that many companies are still not adhering to workplace health and safety regulations with regards to implementing appropriate guarding for potential hazardous machinery on site. Not long ago we heard of the earthworks company who left an inexperienced worker to operate earthmoving machinery which did not have proper machine guards in place. This led to the workers hand being caught in a hydraulic conveyor causing it to be amputated. The incident was shocking and tragic and businesses need to learn their lesson from the mistakes of this negligent company because while the company had to pay hefty fines, the worker paid the real cost as he will have to go through life with only one hand.

There are a plethora of machinery and equipment on construction sites that are extremely dangerous if operated by someone who has not been trained, even with the appropriate guarding in place. But without the guarding the risks are even greater.

These risks must either be eliminated or reduced. In most instances it is not possible to eliminate the hazard, because the machinery is vital to the task involved. In this case employers must reduce the risk involved with hazard as much as possible and this can be done by installing appropriate guarding in order to prevent access of workers or their extremities to the machine’s dangerous parts.

Some employers incorrectly believe that guarding will interfere with the machines operation however this is not the case. Guarding need not be elaborate or interfere with productivity at all.

Employers should look at the safety characteristics of machines when purchasing new equipment. The best policy is to get the supplier or manufacturer to fit the guards themselves.

Identifying the potential injuries that may occur, like lacerations or crushed fingers caused through inadequate machine guarding. By identifying the hazards first, employers and workers can develop a plan to overcome these hazards.

In terms of dangerous machinery on construction sites the risks involved are caused by tools and dies, flywheels and gear wheels, guillotine blades, shafts and spindles, milling cutters, circular saws and many others. Parts of the machine that are particularly dangerous are shear points, cutting areas, stabbing points, abrasion areas, flying particles, any protrusions and crushing areas.

Some of the hazards that can be controlled by fitment of machine guarding equipment are:

  • By fitting guarding to machinery employees arms or legs can be saved from coming into contact with or being entangled in machinery
  • Can shield the worker from the release of potential energy
  • It can prevent a worker being trapped between the machine and material or a fixed structure
  • Guarding can prevent a part of a workers body coming into contact with material in motion
  • Prevent a worker being struck by ejected parts of machinery or by material ejected from machine

Employers should conduct a separate risk assessment for each machine on site and any associated system of work used with that machine and consult workers to evaluate the effectiveness of implementing control measures such as machine guarding.

If an employer has determined that a hazard cannot be eliminated or replaced with a less hazardous option, the next preferred measure is to use an engineering control such guarding, using enclosures or even automating a process.

Where engineering controls cannot fully control a health and safety risk, administration controls should be used.  This includes introducing work practices that reduce risk and limit employee exposure. These may include training employees in correct and safe operation, developing Safe Operating Procedures, reducing the number of employees exposed to the hazard, reducing the period of employee exposure, developing and implementing lock-out procedures or displaying the appropriate signs to warn workers.

(Photo: adamr /

Once all other control measures ( both engineering and administrative) have been put in place, only then should Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) be introduced. PPE should be seen as an additional precaution but not the only control.  Efforts to remove health and safety risks using elimination, engineering as well as administration controls should be fully explored before introducing PPE. Some of the personal protective equipment that can be implemented are safety glasses to protect the eyes and hard hats to protect their heads. These should be provided free of charge for workers and they should be trained on the correct use.