A recent court case has highlighted an unsafe practice that is all too widespread in engineering works around Australia – the use of timber in place of properly specified work supports.
The case followed a tragedy at a workshop run by PJL Group in Cobar in May 2014 in which a 30-year-old diesel mechanic suffered fatal crush injuries when a load frame from a 20 tonne underground haul truck slipped from its supports and fell on him.
An investigation by SafeWork NSW found that the load frame was supported on steel cylindrical stands propped-up on the wooden blocks, which were unable to handle the load. The wooden blocks split, causing the load frame to fall on the worker, resulting in fatal crush injuries.
SafeWork NSW charged PJL with a breach of section 19(1)/32 of the Work Health and Safety Act (NSW) for failing to manage the risk of serious injury or death from the load frame moving or falling. PJL was found guilty in the District Court and fined $225,000.
Tony Brooks is a Director of maintenance equipment specialist Safety MITS, and he is adamant that timber is not a valid support tool. He says: “Instead of using fit-for-purpose jacking, cribbing and blocking tools for supporting heavy loads, I’m frustrated to see companies still putting their workers at risk by using inefficient and dangerous random pieces of timber.”
The main problem with the use of timber is that its structural integrity (or lack of it) often cannot be identified until it's too late. A block may be perfect the day you buy it, but the danger comes as it ages and gets exposed to certain elements.
Timber in moist conditions will absorb water and become structurally unsound, while timber exposed to excessive heat becomes brittle. When the load-bearing effectiveness is compromised, timber can fail catastrophically with little or no warning.
Says Brooks: “There are plastic engineered cribbing blocks available on the market, which are far superior to timber. For example, each of our Dura Crib plastic engineered cribbing blocks possesses a uniform load-bearing capacity across the entire block.
This is due to blocks having a specific chemical composition that is constantly repeated, and a quality manufacturing process that ensures all products are the same, plus or minus five per cent.
I do appreciate that industry is slowly recognising the benefits of plastic engineered cribbing blocks, but that process is not fast enough. We still have too many workers being killed or injured in our workplaces needlessly.”
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