Farmer killed while unloading bulka bags

This safety alert is a reminder of the hazards and risks when suspending and unloading flexible intermediate bulk containers (FIBC) commonly known as 'Bulka bags'.

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Published: 20 July 2022

Background

A farmer was fatally injured when he was crushed between a FIBC load and a seed bin.

The FIBC was suspended from the telehandler's arms (tines) by the lifting loops. The farmer was unloading the suspended FIBC into a three compartment seed bin on the rear of a semi-trailer. The lifting loops on the FIBC failed resulting in the farmer being fatally crushed between the FIBC load and bin.

Safety issues

  • The design and construction of the FIBCs will determine how FIBCs are filled, discharged, loaded, unloaded, transported, stored, stacked, and if they are reusable.  These factors need to be considered when using FIBCs, including when determining how FIBCs should be stored, loaded and unloaded.
  • The safe working load (SWL) limit being exceeded.
  • FIBCs can weigh 500kg to 1,000kg when loaded depending on the contents.
  • FIBCs structural integrity may be compromised by multiple use, incorrect use, chemicals, and mechanical damage.
  • Placing the FIBC load bearing lifting loops directly onto a forklift or telehandlers arms (tines) exposes the lifting loops to sharp edges and may cause the loops to fail under load.  
  • In the event of a lifting loop failure, a suspended FIBC could swing and or drop, striking persons nearby.

Controlling the risk

Ensure systems of work for the filling, discharging, loading, unloading, transporting, storing, stacking and reusing of the FIBCs are safe and without risks. A safe system of work includes:

  • Follow manufacturer's instructions for the use and reuse of FIBCs, including:
    • Ensuring the SWL is not exceeded.
    • Refilling reusable FIBCs only with the products it was designed to hold.
    • Inspecting for damage, particularly to the underside of loops before loading and before each lift.
      • If there are any signs of wear, threading or damage, remove the FIBC from service.
    • Replacing FIBCs at the recommended time frames.
  • Using purpose designed and built lifting devices that are securely attached to the forklift, telehandler, crane or relevant plant to suspend FIBCs, with any de-rating of the equipment (if required) undertaken by suitably competent persons.
    • Do not place FIBC lifting loops directly on to forklift or telehandler tines as they usually have sharp edges (less than 5mm radius) and may cut the lifting loops when under load.
    • Do not suspend an FIBC using fewer lifting loops than those provided.
  • Not placing yourself or allowing others underneath a suspended FIBC.
    • Using FIBCs with a spout opening, a piercing dispenser or frame that allows the contents to be emptied whilst employees and other persons remain at a safe distance away from the suspended FIBC.
  • Keeping the travel paths clear of persons and obstructions.
  • Providing employees with the information, instruction, training or supervision that is necessary to enable them to work safely with, or in the vicinity of, FIBCs.

Legal duties

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 (including labour hire employees, independent contractors and employees of independent contractors)
  • provide and maintain plant (eg forklifts, telehandlers) or systems of work that are so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to the health of employees
  • 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
  • so far as is reasonably practicable, consult with employees and health and safety representatives when identifying or assessing hazards or risks and making decisions about risk control measures

Both employers and self-employed persons must:

  • ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons (other than employees) are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the employer or self-employed person's undertaking.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, employers and self-employed persons must also:

  • identify all hazards associated with plant at the workplace, so far as is reasonably practicable
  • control risks (including by eliminating and/or reducing risks) associated with plant so far as is reasonably practicable, in accordance with the plant hierarchy of control. Measures to control risks must be reviewed and if necessary, revised in certain circumstances including if changes are made to the plant or the way it is used.
  • ensure plant is inspected to the extent necessary to ensure that risks associated with its use are monitored

For further information on the plant hierarchy of control and when to review and revise risk control measures, see the WorkSafe Plant Compliance Code.

Australian and International Standards

  • AS 3668 – Flexible intermediate bulk containers – Non dangerous goods
  • ISO 21898 – Packaging – Flexible intermediate bulk containers (FBICs) for non dangerous goods

Further information