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:

  • Excavator operators should be adequately trained on the use of quick hitches in general;
  • Excavator operators should be competent to use the specific hitch on the machine they use;
  • The manufacturer-specified retaining pin must be available on the machine;
  • Operators should only use pins which have been designed for this specific use;
  • There should be a system for checking that the pin is in place on the hitch before starting the work and every time a different attachment is fitted;
  • Operators should be instructed not to use the machine unless they are satisfied that the quick hitch is secured in place.  If the operator cannot see from the cab of the vehicle due to poor weather then s/he must visually check from the ground;
  • Those in control of sites should undertake random checks to ensure the precautions are being implemented.  

Additional advice on good practice

  • Where there are loose pins or clips which may be easily lost, they should be retained or attached to the quick hitch.
  • The area around safety pin insertion holes can be painted to make it clear to operators and site supervision where the pin should be inserted.  Likewise pins can be painted to make them more visible.
  • Some duty holders have modified the safety pin so that it cannot be fully removed from the hitch.  Duty holders should always check with the manufacturer before modifying the hitch.
  • Ad-hoc replacements of pins with large bolts, wire or other substitutes should be forbidden in all circumstances;
  • Safe systems of work should ensure that others are not exposed to risk by working below the bucket, for example, ground workers in excavations.

Legal requirements

The main relevant requirements are:

  • Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 – ensuring safety at work.
  • Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (Regs 3 and 5) – risk assessments and precautions.
  • Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (Regs 5, 6, 8 and 9) – machine safety maintenance, training and instruction.
  • Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (Regs 8 and 15) – planning and managing work.
  • Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 - Quick hitches used with excavators are subject to a thorough examination regime under Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations.  This should be undertaken by a competent person.  If the hitch is permanently on the machine then the thorough examination of the hitch will be every 12 months or at an interval determined by the competent person.  If the hitch is not permanently attached then it is classed as a lifting accessory and is subject to six monthly checks.

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.  

Industry takes action on semi-automatic quick hitches from 1 October 2008

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