Industry guidance on quick hitches

HSE safety alert on quick hitches

Date of Issue: 17 December 2007

HSE is issuing a safety alert to users of excavators fitted with quick hitch devices. There have been a number of serious incidents in the construction industry, including four fatalities since December 2006. This alert outlines the precautions which should be taken when relying on these devices.  HSE inspectors will be encouraged to take robust and appropriate enforcement action where quick hitches are found to be in use without adequate precautions.


A quick hitch on an excavator is a latching device that enables attachments to be connected to the dipper arm of the plant and changed quickly. Quick hitches are in common use throughout the construction industry and, when properly designed, maintained and used can save a great deal of time when working with excavators.  They allow operators to quickly use plant for a wider range of tools than just buckets, such as mechanical diggers and piling drills.

The four fatal incidents in the last 12 months involved semi-automatic quick hitches, but there have been other incidents involving both manual and automatic types in the past. There are many different types of quick hitch but the common theme through all of these fatal incidents was a missing retaining pin or bar.

The pin holds the attachment in place against the quick hitch and insures against accidental release. A quick hitch may still operate for some time without the retaining pin in place and then suddenly, without warning will swing open or fall completely off. If this happens when lifting over/close to a person then the result is likely to be fatal.

Action by users of quick hitches

Those in control of work should ensure that adequate precautions are in place. The precautions to be taken should be identified by a comprehensive risk assessment and should include:

Additional advice on good practice

Legal requirements

The main relevant requirements are:

A HSE Sector Information Minute (SIM 02/2007/01) on the use of quick hitches on excavators has been prepared in June 2007 for HSE Inspectors and carries more detailed information, including recommended enforcement action under the above legal requirements.