Workplace Health & Safety rules with heavy vehicles

I recently had to find out about the Workplace Health & Safety (WHS) rules that apply to heavy vehicles with plant bodies. Obligations exist for vehicle owners, suppliers, body builders and drivers. 

The goal of WHS rules and practices is to avoid accidents and long-term injuries. This laudable goal should underpin all business activities, because the alternative is painful, costly and destroys reputations. This article is a first-pass guide to the WHS landscape for heavy vehicles that have plant equipment attached.

National standards
The national vehicle safety standards are the Australian Design Rules (ADRs). Most road vehicles must comply with them. If a body such as a crane, concrete pump boom, loading hook or elevated work platform is installed onto a cab-chassis truck, then the ADRs still apply to the finished vehicle. The nature of the body may require additional lights to be added. The ADR width, overhang and turning circle limits will also apply, but the ADRs are not concerned with WHS risks, though additional design and operational requirements arises.
Some types of machines that could travel on public roads, but by their nature have special purpose features, can be registered but do not need to comply with all the ADRs. These include harvesters, tractors, heavy-lift trailers, and road-making plant. The road authorities define the minimum equipment required, and the WHS regulations also apply.

The various state and national WHS rules apply to the activities that heavy vehicles are involved in, because they are workplaces. A few types of road vehicles are prescribed plant equipment, including mobile cranes with a rating over 10 tonnes; mobile, elevated work platforms (EWPs); and dangerous-goods tankers. Technical standards for prescribed equipment apply to these types of vehicles and a specific design approval is needed from an authority. A design registration plate that shows the design registration number and other prescribed information must be affixed. Some jurisdictions also require individual plant vehicles to be registered with the local WHS regulator.

Any of the state and territory WHS authorities can issue a design approval. Comcare, the national WHS regulator, can issue design registrations for mobile cranes and EWPs, but not for dangerous-goods tankers. WHS legislation in all jurisdictions except for Victoria and Western Australia is now based upon the national WHS regulations. That is, it has been harmonised. Organisations that operate nationally can opt in to national regulations and deal with Comcare, whereas state-based companies must comply with the local WHS regulations and deal with the state regulator. Designers, manufacturers and body builders must research the applicable WHS regulations in each jurisdiction that they supply into.

Plant equipment
Vehicles with plant equipment installed that are not of a prescribed type must comply with the regulations and codes of practice that define the minimum safety features required. This places specific obligations on the designer of the plant equipment and, by association, on the installer and the distributor. Designers are required to ensure that all hazards associated with the use of the plant equipment are identified during the design – with ‘use’ including operation, maintenance, service, repair, inspection and cleaning. The design should seek to eliminate the risk of the hazard, where reasonably possible.

In practical terms, suppliers who provide vehicles with plant equipment attached – such as concrete pumps, street sweepers, bin hooks, eductors and vehicle-loading cranes – should be able to produce a detailed hazard and risk assessment for the vehicle. Owners must have safe-work practices in place, and it is expected that owners will train and instruct operators in safe-work practices and that operators will implement those work practices.

Tow trucks are not registrable plant. This is the result of a decision by governments to have road agencies determine tow-truck features. Unfortunately, there is no national regulation for tow trucks, although the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) has this on its work program. ADR 44/00 requires tow-truck lifting gear to comply with AS 1418 Parts 1 and 2. The design and installation aspects also need to comply with Sections T1 and T2 of the national modification code (Vehicle Standards Bulletin VSB6) – assuming that the tow truck work was done as a modification. One important aspect of tow truck design is to limit the unloading of the steering axle to no more than 60 per cent of the tare weight due to load imposed on a rear under-lift arm by a towed vehicle. Tow trucks that pick up vehicles on public roads must carry prescribed equipment that could be useful, such as fire extinguishers, brooms, safety cones, wheel chocks and light boards for a trailing vehicle. To find out what is necessary, check the local state regulations.

Finally, the NHVR has foreshadowed that a new tipping truck or trailer body that is lifted by a hydraulic hoists must comply with AS 1418 Part 8, Section 4. This requirement is in VSB6, Section R and is mandatory for newly manufactured or modified tip trucks from 1 April, 2018. If you operate a business involving the installation of tip-body hoisting gear, you must follow up on this.

Sound complicated? No, it isn’t. The secret is to get all parties to cooperate to produce a safe working environment. A guide to some hazards that are easily identifiable is given in the table below.

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