Safety alert: Operation of powered tilting stabilisers on loading vehicles with hydraulic-mounted cranes

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has issued a safety notice for those involved in lorry loader operations with powered ’tilting’ (also known as ‘swing-up’ or ‘rotating’) stabilisers.

This comes following three fatal incidents since 2019, where operators of lorry loaders were crushed against the vehicle by the retracting leg of a powered tilting stabiliser. In all of these cases, the retracting stabiliser leg struck the operator when it was only partially rotated to an approximately horizontal position.


What are tilting stabilising arms?

Swing-up stabilisers are fitted to lorry loaders to help stabilise the vehicle during loading and unloading. They can be either manually or hydraulically operated, either by levers at the crane base or via remote control.

Powered stabiliser tilt is controlled either by levers at the crane base or by remote control. Tilting stabilisers may rotate either towards the front or the rear of the vehicle and, on some lorry loaders, stabilisers on opposite sides of the same vehicle may tilt upwards in different directions.

There’s a risk of serious injury or death when a powered tilting stabiliser is being rotated to a vertical position. If a stabiliser is retracted towards the vehicle when it’s not vertical, the operator or others positioned in the danger zone can be crushed.


What you need to do:

Contact the equipment manufacturer at the earliest opportunity to identify and put in place reasonably practicable improvements to reduce the risk of crushing. For example, you might be able to:

  • Install software modifications to prevent the stabiliser from retracting unless the leg is in the vertical stowage position.
  • Install physical interlocks to prevent the stabiliser legs being retracted unless the leg is vertical.
  • Disable the base controls by removing the fixed levers and use only remote controls.

Keep any records of discussions with manufacturers.


Keeping your workforce safe

Employers and users of the equipment should make sure that their operators are competent, are familiar with the functions of the type of stabiliser fitted, and have been trained in using it correctly. The HSE recommends that you follow these key safety points:

  • The risk of crushing is higher on the side where the tilting stabiliser rotates towards the operator or levers at the crane base.
  • Tilting stabiliser legs should be pinned or locked in the vertical position before the horizontal stabiliser beam is deployed or retracted.
  • It’s essential that operators carefully watch all movements of the stabilisers during deployment and stowage.
  • Make sure operators are aware that operating the tilt-up function must be separate from the retraction of the stabiliser beam (operators shouldn’t use both simultaneously).
  • Operators should be familiar with the manufacturer’s instructions on deploying and stowing tilting stabilisers, because there can be a lot of variation between different systems.
  • Operators, or others, shouldn’t be positioned in (or be asked to lean or reach into) danger zones where there’s a risk of crushing.
  • Where the stabiliser is only partially deployed, the risk is increased. In this case, think about repositioning the vehicle to extend the stabiliser beam a bit more before the tilt-up leg is deployed.
  • Where available, use remote controls to operate the stabilisers. Make sure the operator stands in a position where they can watch the operation but are outside the danger zone.
  • All loader cranes with remote control of powered stabilisers have the option to use emergency fixed levers at the crane base. The emergency fixed levers are only needed if remote control fails and if:
  • The spare remote control battery doesn’t fix the issue, and;
    • The remote control ‘umbilical cord’ doesn’t work.
    • If you’re a fleet owner, make sure that the umbilical cord is always available in the cab and is fit for use. If you need to use the emergency fixed levers, this guidance applies in the same way it would to standard controls.


What do you need to do now? 

  1. Brief this Safety Alert to all members of your workforce involved in loading and unloading activities or operating lorry loaders.
  2. Review your risk assessments on loading and unloading and any lifting plans you have. Make sure these have information on the importance of operating stabilisers from a safe position and also include a Safe Operating Procedure for tilting stabilising arms, and an action plan in case of a mechanical failure during operation.
  3. Make sure that operators are competent and have been monitored using stabiliser legs correctly. Make sure they’re aware that they shouldn’t use the swing-up function and move the stabiliser beam at the same time.


Additional resources highlighted by the HSE:

For more support with this or any other Health & Safety issue, call your 24/7 Health & Safety advice line on 0345 844 4848.

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