Regulatory design rules need to overlap better with regulations to adequately ensure the safety and operation of plant vehicles used in infrastructure, construction and commercial road transport according to a leading industry expert.
Engineer and former head of ARTSA, Dr Peter Hart said the ongoing inconsistencies between occupational, health and safety (OH&S) regulations that are enforced by the work-safety authorities of the individual states and vehicle standards regulations that are based upon Australian Design Rules (ADR) were an ongoing issue.
At present plant vehicles that fall between the cracks of anomalous regulatory frameworks are subjecting operators to legal sanction should someone be injured when using the vehicle.
Tipper trucks, mobile cranes, tow trucks, street sweepers, grease trap vacuums and moveable platforms are all, in one way or another, currently vulnerable to dangerous inconsistencies in regulatory practice according to Hart.
Many operators, at present, do not recognise that OH&S regulations require safe designs and operating procedures.
The problem according to Hart is the requirements that arise currently from OH&S regulations are not policed by the vehicle-standards regulators.
“When it comes to hydraulic systems on trailers and power take off (PTO) units found on the like of tippers and tow trucks, the Australian Design Rules are inadequate. They were never intended to cover plant items, despite there being a few outdated references to OH&S standards in the ADRs,” he said.
“There’s an inability for these to overlap because of conditional state and federal jurisdictions,” said Hart.
The National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) is tasked with regulating in cooperation with the states and in doing so are developing common procedures and rules for in-service vehicles.
This scope, however, does not include OH&S regulations.
Neither the NHVR nor the state road agencies, retains any power over the new vehicles because the new vehicle space is regulated by the Federal government.
The Federal OH&S regulator, Commcare is not responsible for vehicle standards regulations. Therefore, new vehicles that have integrated plant equipment tend to escape the attention of the regulators.
While design rules mandated by the Federal Government address safety and environmental rules, they commonly do not account for OH&S issues which have been the province of state governments, many of which operate differently to each other.
Once a vehicle goes into operation the responsibility for regulating the safety of the vehicle transfers from the Federal to the State domains.
A few, select types of vehicles, must be approved given the danger they can pose to the public.
These include cranes that have a 10 tonnes or greater lifting capacity; and dangerous-goods tankers for petroleum and gas cartage. Such equipment is called ‘prescribed’.
Operators of prescribed equipment usually know they need an approval and the state OH&S regulators can issue approvals for each of these vehicles.
Hart said operators of vehicles that have plant features such as tip-trucks and tip-trailers and vehicle loading cranes — for less than 10t lift — that are non-prescribed, often do not understand that the OH&S regulations apply.
According to Hart, OH&S regulations say little about hydraulic systems other than a requirement that the designer of plant equipment conduct a hazard and risk assessment to identify the hazards and design out the said risks.
“The requirement for designers to conduct a hazard and risk assessment is specified in all state and federal OH&S regulations. The designs need to be reviewed and the safety risks identified. That’s how they try to control the risks of plant item equipment without having to be specific about every type of plant item equipment you can come up with,” he said.
“The safety of a person should not depend on a hydraulic system. In other words you can’t rely solely on a hydraulic system to keep you up in the air or to prevent something falling on top of you. You actually have to have another independent safety system that does that as well. Some of it is inferenced in the rules but it comes out of the principles of the hazard and risk assessment,” said Hart.
Australian Standard AS1418 series is applicable to mobile cranes and vehicle loading cranes.
Australian Standards, however, are not law unless they are specified in regulations.
Whereas some international safety regulations are also acceptable to regulators, ADR 44/02 does call up the 1977 version of AS1418, which has been superseded.
Hart points to how this illustrates the problem given the ADRs are not OH&S regulations.
Tow trucks, for another example, often use some form of hydraulic winch and a lifting system.
This type of plant equipment currently falls through the cracks when it comes to an agreed upon standardized practice nationally.
“There is no national tow-truck regulation. If there was, the OH&S requirements could be put into it,” said Hart.
“As it stands, the weights permitted on the back of a tow truck and the operational requirements differ between states.”
Hart is an advocate for a national tow truck regulation being introduced as states currently enforce different laws which have the potential to create troubles at borders where one set of regulations is acceptable in one state but not necessarily in the next.
The national modification code VSB 6 has draft rules for tip trucks, but it is on-hold given that most tipping bodies at present do not comply.
Most operators do not know that safety valves or burst valves and emergency stops come out of the hazard and risk assessment process.
It’s imperative that it gets sorted out sooner rather than later according to Hart.
The issue is further compounded by not having lifting gear on tow trucks covered adequately by AS1418.
It has left modifiers confused as to what features a tow truck is supposed to include.
Approved Vehicle Examiners (AVEs) are required to sign off on modifications according to the technical requirements in Vehicle Standard Bulletin Six (VSB6), which is the heavy vehicle modification code.
That code does not, however, deal with occupational health and safety regulations aside from a few cursory mentions.
According to Hart, it’s common practice for someone to load a vehicle crane on the flatbed of a truck.
“As an AVE I am required to sign off the installation of the crane, but I do not have to sign off that the crane itself is OK,” he said.
“The AVE is not accredited by Work Cover to assess cranes, but he is accredited to sign off the installation of the crane so as to how it pertains to the vehicle,” said Hart.
As such it is problematical that the AVE can approve a modification without taking account of the OH&S safety requirements.
The issues concern more than emergency stops and air valves.
According to Hart air tanks used on trucks that are above a specified volume and pressure are considered prescribed equipment under OH&S regulations.
Few vehicle manufacturers, however, get the air tanks certified. This situation to date has generally been ignored by regulators.
More recently VicRoads issued a bulletin stating that equipment with lifting systems on them had to comply with VSB6 requirements. Hart said it specifically addressed the installation of safety valves on cylinders.
“VicRoads point out that if a truck gets modified it must have this burst valve on it but that’s not a requirement in the ADRs. If the body was put on it by the original equipment manufacturer then it doesn’t need the burst valve,” he said.
“I believe this claim is wrong because the OH&S regulations are applicable to manufacturers and modifiers alike. VicRoads do not administer the OH&S regulations.”
Another requirement that will catch out most modifiers is the provision of emergency stops around equipment that lift.
OH&S regulations require them.
“There are occupational health and safety regulations that have to be followed irrespective of the ADR requirements,” he said.
“The focus of a road agency like VicRoads is only on the vehicle standards regulations but it doesn’t seem to appreciate that there are occupational health and safety regulations that need to be applied as well.
“This is a messy area. Basically, we have two different arms of different governments trying to regulate the one bit of gear, or parts of the one bit of gear, but they are not talking to one and other.”