Truck crane death highlights boom-crushing risk

14 December 2011

Jusice Gary Hearn of the Ontario Court of Justice fined Delta Truck Equipment CAD100,000 and its supervisor, Phillip Hutton, CAD15,000, after a maintenance person was crushed to death by a truck crane’s boom in Breslau, Canada.

The incident highlights the risks posed by cranes where the boom is able to enter the working area around the controls. A similar slew of similar truck crane deaths in Australia in 2004 prompted at least one manufacturer to change the design of new cranes.

The fatal accident occurred at Delta’s regional shop in Breslau in the last ten minutes of a late shift. Supervisor Phillip Hutton was testing a crane with the power take-off (PTO) engaged and the truck engine on. The PTO provides power to an attachment or separate machine, such as a boom, from the engine.

Hutton saw the hydraulic fluid level was too high and needed to be reduced by draining it from the hydraulic reservoir.

He asked a worker to observe the hydraulic fluid leveling glass on the driver side, out of his sight, as he drained the fluid on the passenger side. With the PTO left on, the crane’s hydraulics remained enabled.

What followed is described in the Agreed Statement of Facts provided by the Ontario Ministry of Labour: “It is unknown how or why the worker’s body had contacted the controls. The worker’s upper chest had pushed the controls, causing the crane boom to move violently and erratically, smashing the rear cab window.

“As the boom contacted the worker from behind, it pushed the worker against the controls; the more and harder the contact from the boom, the more and harder the controls were engaged, and the more and harder the pressure from the boom.”

Hutton found the worker’s body suspended about a foot in the air, wedged between the boom and the controls, with the worker’s chest fatally crushed.

Although boom truck manufacturers have discussed this kind of crushing death on the European loader crane design standards committee, recurrences of it highlight the continuing risk.

Cranes Today reported on one manufacturer’s reaction to the three crushing deaths in Australia in a 2007 article, Hiab's virtual safety cage.

Although Hiab truck cranes weren’t involved in the Australian deaths, Hiab created a working area limitation system called the Hiab Operator Protection System for truck cranes with capacities ranging from 5tm-15tm.

The system stops the crane’s boom when it moves too close to the control lever station.

This Operator Protection System is standard on Hiab’s truck cranes sold in Australia, and as of 2007 it was sold as option for €1,000 in some other countries.

Truck crane owners who don’t yet have access to a protection system should ensure their staff takes precautions when working around truck cranes and are mindful of the risks of being pinned between the boom and control levers.