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Date PostedMay 11, 2013

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).

Source: www.workcover.nsw.gov.au

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 www.workcover.nsw.gov.au


Steven Asnicar is regarded as a leader across many fields of industry. In particular, his specialisation across the health, infrastructure, construction, resource and utility sectors has seen him successfully change the dynamics of these industries through the introduction of new strategic, marketing, training and technical frameworks. Steven works closely with industry peak bodies such as Safework Australia, Australian Logistics Council, National Advisory for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment (NATESE) and the Council of Australian Governments in the development of new delivery standards and industry specific programs.

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