Another driver killed working on steep terrain

After the latest in a series of fatalities, WorkSafe is issuing a reminder about the importance of managing the risks of working in vehicles on steep slopes.
Safety alert published

Tuesday 31 Mar 2020

Industries and topics
  • Agriculture
  • Plant hazards

Background

In March, a contractor was killed when his vehicle overturned on a steep slope while he was weed spraying. This is just the latest in a series of fatal incidents that include:

  • contractors thrown from lime and fertiliser spreaders on steep slopes (June 2017 and March 2018)
  • an employee thrown from a 4-wheel drive on a farm (August 2018)
  • a contractor thrown from his ute after losing control on steep terrain (November 2019).

These 5 men have not returned home from work because of the risks of working on hilly terrain.

Safety issues

Terrain and vehicles pose a number of risks to drivers and passengers. When a vehicle overturns, there is the risk of being killed if thrown from or crushed by the vehicle. But people can also be thrown around inside the cabin and hit by loose objects, and receive serious or even fatal injuries.

Recommended ways to control risks

Safety when working in vehicles on steep terrain is a shared responsibility. You have safety obligations whether you are:

  • an employer
  • a self-employed person
  • an employee
  • someone who manages or controls a workplace (such as a farm)

Control measures should include the following:

Vehicle suitability and planning the work

  • Consider the nature of the task, environmental conditions and terrain before determining how the job will be done. Sometimes this needs to be done on a daily or even hourly basis depending on the weather and drying times for the ground surface.
  • Pre-plan the work with the property owner or manager.
  • Be prepared to change the work to make it safer and to change the daily schedule if ground conditions change.
  • Identify and enforce no-go zones on unsuitable or steep terrain – use satellite maps to define key areas.
  • Where and when the terrain is unsuitable, consider doing a task by another means (eg aerial spraying or hand spraying on foot).

Vehicle maintenance

  • Ensure the vehicle regularly undergoes planned maintenance.
  • Implement a system of daily condition reports and a way of communicating and actioning those reports.
  • Define safety-critical features that need to be fixed before work continues.

Seatbelts

  • Ensure all occupants wear a seatbelt while the vehicle is operating, and seatbelts are put back on after getting back into a vehicle.
  • Ensure all seatbelts are in good working condition.

Communication

  • Make sure good communications are in place – for example, assessing mobile phone coverage and using personal 2-way radios.

Information, instruction, training and supervision

  • Don't allow untrained, unlicensed or inexperienced people to operate the vehicle, particularly in unfamiliar or high-risk terrain or for unfamiliar tasks.
  • Implement a system to ensure people are competent to conduct the work - this should include instructions, information about the work, mentoring and assessment, toolbox training and refresher training even for experienced employees.

Legal duties

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors. This means employers must eliminate so far as is reasonably practicable the risk associated with terrain and vehicles. Where the risk cannot be eliminated, it must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers must provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are safe and without risks to health, so far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers must provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.

Employers must also ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people other than employees are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the employer's conduct.

Self-employed persons must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that people are not exposed to risks to their health and safety arising from how they conduct their business undertaking.

A person who (whether as an owner or otherwise) has management or control of a workplace (which may include a farm) must ensure so far as is reasonably practicable that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health .

Employees must take reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by what they do or don't do. Employees must also cooperate with their employer on any action the employer takes to comply with OHS laws.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, employers and self-employed persons have a specific duty to eliminate the risks associated with vehicles overturning and drivers being ejected, so far as is reasonably practicable. If that is not reasonably practicable, the risks must be reduced so far as is reasonably practicable.

Related information