Fatal fall while loading wood chips at a sawmill

What happened?

A driver arrived at a sawmill in the afternoon with his walking-floor trailer heavy goods vehicle to load it with wood chips. The sawmill staff finished work for the day and left the site from the front of the building, so did not see the driver or his vehicle again that day.

The following morning staff on their way to work saw the vehicle parked on an estate road adjacent to the site. They found the driver dead in the cab. The evidence suggested that the driver returned to his cab following a fall during sheeting and died of a combination of his injuries and a pre-existing heart condition.

Why did it happen?

Vehicles have to be sheeted to prevent dust blowing out. The trailer was fitted with a manual sheeting system that allowed the sheet to be deployed from ground level, using a nylon webbing pull strap. When the driver was found, the sheet was partially deployed over the load. However, there was no evidence that it had jammed or caught on the load, so no clear indication that the driver had needed to access the top of the trailer to level the load.

The investigation found that the main measures for controlling the risks of work at height during loading and unloading the rigid-wall trailers were in place. These involved using the ground-level-operated sheeting system as the preferred option, but, if not available or it failed to deploy, then using other equipment such as (in order of preference) gantries, harnesses and fall-restraint equipment to safely access the top of the trailer.

Following the accident, further measures were identified to minimise the risks if the sheeting system was not available or failed to deploy. These required improvements in the arrangements made with customers who provided the alternative access equipment, such as ensuring they also provided training in how to use it.

Actions taken

Improved provision of access equipment

  • Fall-restraint gantries were installed at the company's own sites where bulk loading takes place.
  • The condition of sheeting equipment on trailers was reviewed and equipment replaced if necessary. More robust pullover straps with locking clips were also issued.

robust pullover straps with locking clips

  • More effective barriers were provided to minimise the risk of falls from the gantry at the front of trailers, while un-sheeting. All new trailers were supplied with additional safety equipment on the gantries and older trailers reviewed and altered accordingly.
  • The specification and ordering of trailers and equipment was improved, taking into account good practice throughout the industry, specifically:
    • type of pull over straps;
    • number of sheeting straps on trailer;
    • type of back doors and locking mechanism;
    • type of rear door safety release mechanisms;
    • number of roof bars;
    • type of rear apex;
    • type of gantry and access ladder;
    • type of safety gate at top of ladder;
    • which side the sheet rolls;type and shape of sheeting system pole;
    • model and type of walking-floor mechanism;
    • position and alignment of hydraulic pipes;
    • location of tool box;
    • general assessment of sheeting mechanism.
  • The company assessed what access equipment was provided by the sites visited by their drivers. This included finding out what was available and what condition it was in. Following these assessments, they took action to ensure this equipment was either in a suitable condition or updated/changed.
  • The need to access the top of the load to level bulked-up loads was removed by using other levelling methods. For example, some sites were provided with access gantries that allowed a driver to level his load with a long-handled rake before sheeting. There were also controls on how much was loaded into the trailer to reduce the need for levelling.
  • It was also agreed with the sites that drivers would establish before use that the equipment was in a safe condition, adequately maintained, and that safe systems of work were in place.

Improved training and instruction

  • Drivers received training in the safe use of gantries, harnesses and fall-restraint systems.
  • If drivers were not able to sheet the load safely from ground level they were given clear instructions on the hierarchy of methods for minimising the risk of a fall.
  • Instructions now go out with all new contracts stating that the loading of trucks with light bulky material should not exceed the sides of the trailer unless suitable equipment is available to trim and safely sheet the load without danger to the driver.

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Updated 2021-07-06