Mobile phones a potential workplace hazard

A truck driver, distracted while using a mobile phone, knocked over a worker as he was reversing into the loading area, causing them serious injuries. The worker sustained multiple jaw fractures and a punctured and collapsed lung. Initially hospitalised for 10 days, he didn’t return to work for 14 months and required ongoing surgery.

This incident illustrates the sort of severe injuries that can occur when workers are distracted by using mobile phones in the workplace.

Many workplaces now ban mobile phones as they can be extremely distracting – especially due to the increasing popularity of smartphones with email and apps.

WorkCover Team Coordinator Anthony Nicholson said this was a good practice, particularly for high-risk work where workers needed to focus on the activity.

“But even in a relatively safe workplace, such as a warehouse environment, someone walking while checking their phone could easily slip or trip,” he said.

“Workers should consider the most appropriate times to use their phones, which, generally speaking, would be morning tea or meal breaks. What text message or Facebook update could be more important than your own safety?”

The risks of using phones while driving vehicles is well documented; research shows it increases the risk of crashing by at least four times, typically resulting in run-off-road or rear-end crashes.

Indicating rising concern, a guide warning workers about the potential danger of mobile phone distraction has been published by the American Training Resources website.

It states many workers do not give a second thought to texting as they complete daily tasks.

‘Just like other workplace distractions such as chattering with co-workers, horseplay or having our mind on something other than our task, being distracted by using the phone also causes us to lose our focus on the job at hand,’ the guide states.

It cites a tragic US incident, where a forklift driver checking a text message – contravening a company rule that phones be kept in lockers during shifts – struck and killed a co-worker.

Expecting ultrasound results to discover the gender of his wife’s baby, he was moving pallets in a storage yard when a text alert sounded. Excited, he momentarily looked down at his phone and failed to see a co-worker walk in front of his forklift.

The guide states that even if a business has no restrictions on mobile phone use, workers need to realise texting or updating social media while performing any task is dangerous: ‘Being distracted, even for a moment, could cause major injuries and property damage.’

To contact WorkCover NSW, call 13 10 50 or visit our website.

Flatbed falls are flat out avoidable

Between 2003 and 2012 there were 15 fatalities due to falls from trucks. The road freight transport industry has a high incidence of injury, in particular those injuries resulting from muscular stress, handling objects and falls from trucks.

These account for 44 per cent of claims and, with 158,000 workers employed in road and freight across NSW, it pays to be aware of the risks.

Responsibility for safety in this industry often falls to multiple parties with many injuries occurring at worksites that aren’t controlled by the transport operator or driver.

This makes it all the more important to have everyone involved on board with safe practices.

Talking through the risks with the delivery point or the transport operator is a great first step.

Falls from flatbed trucks are usually serious, and sometimes fatal, but there are several ways to stay safe while loading and unloading flatbeds; and these tips apply to small as well as large businesses.

The best way to stay safe is to stay on the ground at a safe distance from the mobile plant during loading and unloading.

You can keep your distance from the trailer by using equipment to help you load, by pre-configuring the load to suit the equipment you’re using or, by pre-slinging the load.

If you have aids such as a lead rope or reach pole, you can also employ load restraints that are accessible from the ground.

If you can’t work from the ground, try putting a guard rail or temporary platform in place, or use a retractable ladder or step with handrails.

Remember to keep both of your feet firmly on the ladder or step.

If you need to move around on the trailer, use travel restraints and if these measures are not practical, consider using a fall arrest system.

Although a flatbed or trailer is only one to two metres off the ground, if you fall awkwardly or hit your head, the consequences are serious.

Watch this video safety alert for clear tips on how to stay safe when working with flatbed trucks and trailers.

Call 13 10 50 to get a copy of your free ‘talk before you load up’ poster.

Knocking deck danger on the head

Climbing onto the deck of a tray or trailer can be like walking the plank.

The dangerous practice exposes workers to a high risk of falling several metres, typically onto concrete, and invariably results in serious head injuries, or even death.

Such incidents are all too common in the road freight industry where falls from height account for 13 per cent of workers’ compensation claims, the majority of which are major claims.

While not climbing onto decks in the first place is clearly the safest solution, this is evidently not always practical for truckies and loading bay workers.

The official line from WorkCover NSW is if accessing a deck is absolutely essential, then safety solutions such as chin-strap helmets, hand rails and other fall protection measures are a priority.

Safety steps, for example, are crucial to enable workers to access truck decks without having to precariously climb up the back or sides.

Also effective is positioning mobile stairs near a trailer to eliminate the need to be on a deck to monitor or guide loading activity.

If unable to avoid climbing on deck, then it is critical to use an arrest system, such as an overhead cable and harness system to prevent serious falls.

Even better is a fall prevention platform aligned firmly against the vehicle with outer platform wheels locked so workers can access the deck attached by a waist belt to the platform railing.

In addition to the provision and correct use of safety equipment, it is equally important drivers and loaders are aware of safe work practices to prevent falls:

• Never step backwards, only forwards so you can see where you are going and any slip or trip hazards, as well as how close you are to the edge
• don’t tension chains or straps close to the edge or from ground level – use available platforms to stand on and ensure you have firm footing while securing the load
• never lean over the side of the trailer while on a tray or trailer to anchor chains; always do this from the ground
• if essential to stand on the load to tension chains, stand in the centre of the truck or trailer and arrange the load binder in such a way that if you do slip, you don’t fall over the edge
• do not bend over to pick up material or equipment from the trailer deck as this may cause a rush of blood to the head and a potential overbalance and fall
• avoid climbing over tarped products as there could be gaps underneath that could cause a trip or overbalance and fall over the side
• never jump on or off a trailer or between trailers, platforms or docks, or from forklifts or cranes, as this is extremely dangerous and could result in a serious injury.

There are also a growing number of safety innovations available designed to prevent falls from trucks and trailers.

These include MaxiTrans’ extendable flat top semi-trailer, with a gap-less walkway eliminating the risk of falling between gaps. It costs around $4,000 more than a standard trailer, and earned steel company OneSteel, and road transport equipment firm MaxiTrans a safety improvement award in 2013.

Another innovation is the Metropolitan Express-designed Fall Prevention Safety Trailer (FPSS). It has tautliner-style canvas sides that make it almost impossible for workers to fall off. The sides can be lowered for loading then raised when a driver or loader is arranging and restraining the cargo.

It also has safety features that are becoming more common in the industry, including a beeper alert activated by a forklift or pedestrian moving across the trailer’s rear. Another is a radar-controlled device that stops the trailer from reversing if an object is detected in its path.

To contact WorkCover NSW, call 13 10 50 or visit our website.

Golden rules for a safe passage

Something as simple as getting in and out of your truck cabin each day can seem as harmless as it can be repetitive. The frightening news is that, if not done properly, it can have serious consequences. If you’re, say, 100kg and you jump to the ground from the bottom step of your cabin, it equates to a force of about 120kg. Jump from the middle step and it equates to about 500kg. Do this consistently and it slowly but surely causes wear and tear on your body.
With the day-to-day pressures of meeting deadlines for deliveries, it can be easy for drivers to forget the golden rule of maintaining three points of contact as they get in and out of the truck. This means having two hands and one foot – or two feet and one hand – on the steps and handrails at all times.

To get in and out of the truck cabin safely:

• Face the truck and maintain three points of contact at all times when entering or exiting the cabin. Maintain a balanced posture when entering or exiting your truck
• keep the soles of your shoes clean and replace footwear when the tread is worn to ensure good grip
• park in well-lit areas with an even landing surface
• don’t jump out of your truck cabin or enter and exit while holding something. You could fall or land and injure yourself
• try not to rush. This could impair your balance and increase your risk of injury

Consider installing these features if the truck does not already have them:

• non-slip surfaces on the steps
• lights on the steps
• contrasting colours for the steps and handrails, so they stand out against the truck body
• handrails either side of the cabin door.

For more advice on getting in and out of cabins, read our Safety in the road freight transport industry guide or call 13 10 50.

Campaign targets grim safety record

When Brian Milson was struck by a forklift at a Seven Hills depot it meant the end of the road for his truck driving career. The long-haul truckie was hit from behind while preparing to unhitch his semi-trailer on a miserable wet night in 2007.

Sustaining a torn shoulder tendon and other injuries, he returned to work on light duties within six weeks only to become jobless when his employer went bust.

Unemployed for six months and applying for up to 30 jobs a week, his prospects looked bleak and he suffered from depression and anxiety.

Now in sales – with workers’ comp top-up pay ensuring he earns a truck driver wage – he’s turned a corner but wishes he was still behind the wheel.

“All I ever wanted to do was return to my pre-injury duties, but when you’re told you can’t, it can be extremely tough to deal with,” he said.

Unfortunately, Mr Milson’s experience is by no means an isolated incident in the road freight transport industry.

Several workers are killed and hundreds injured each year after being hit by mobile plant, such as forklifts and other vehicles, while loading and unloading their trucks. More than half the people killed in forklift incidents during the past 10 years were pedestrians.

Casualties are all too common in NSW’s second highest risk industry – 5512 injuries and 29 fatalities between 2007 and 2010, with $157 million in workers’ comp costs in the past three years.

Preventing workers being killed or injured by mobile plant is just one goal of an ambitious campaign to turn this grim safety track record around. No easy task as the industry pivots on complex contractual arrangements. Responsibility for work health and safety (WHS) is often shared by several employers who are often not aware of the part they should play in keeping workers safe.

The campaign identifies better communication as the key to safer on-site traffic management, as well as safety zones and warning devices.

Other campaign issues are disproportionate injury rates stemming from handling and restraining loads – over 40 per cent of all injuries – and a high number of falls from trucks or loads. Also in the spotlight is the industry’s dire return to work and injury management record; the worst in NSW.

Getting workers onboard, however, will not be easy, according to campaign supporter Jodie Broadbent, ATA NSW state representative for road freight transport operators.

“We’re dealing with an ageing ‘old school’ workforce,” she said.

“The attitude is: ‘I’ve always done it this way, who are you to tell me how to pick up a box?’

“Most truck drivers are overweight or obese, so trying to get a driver, or most of our industry’s workers for that matter, to bend their knees is really difficult.”

Research reveals road freight transport workers take longer to recover from illness and drivers run a high risk of mental health issues and occupational disease. The main contributing factors, along with stress and fatigue, are smoking and alcohol use.

The statistics are staggering – long working hours, generally more than 49 hours a week, with almost 80 per cent of workers not exercising enough and over 70 per cent either overweight or obese. Not only is poor diet common but a third of all workers are smokers and consume an unhealthy amount of alcohol.

“Health and fitness is a hard one to manage as you have to influence people’s choices and understanding of what fitness is,” she said.

“For example, many people believe a proper fitness workout requires an hour in a gym.

But actually there are some fantastic workout options that drivers can complete without even getting out of their truck.

“Some of these guys could be ticking time bombs and that’s clearly not sustainable behavior, but they don’t see it as an immediate problem until something goes wrong.”

She said the average driver considered hot, ready-to-go fast food as the quickest option when in fact it took minimal time to prepare a healthy snack or meal.

“It only takes two seconds to grab a few potato cakes, but if the driver is taking a longer rest break, why not wait a couple of minutes for something healthier?” she said.

“The problem is that it’s hard to change someone’s habits when they’ve been doing it this way for so long.”

Click here to find out more about the campaign or visit the ATA NSW website.