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

robust pullover straps with locking clips

Improved training and instruction

Updated 2021-07-06