Case Study from the UK: Fall from a Loader Bucket

Today I’d like to present a case study involving a fall from a loader bucket.  The case comes from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), an independent organization that promotes worker safety in the United Kingdom. Their website includes a few dozen agricultural injury case studies (click here to see their ag case studies).  I chose to take a closer look at the case involving a fall from a loader bucket because problems with overhead piping, heating, and lighting systems seem to be more common in winter, and because I’ve seen at least one near-fall in a similar situation.

The Situation: A farmer was standing in the bucket of a loader tractor performing an overhead pipe repair. The bucket of the loader was about 6 1/2 feet in the air. The pipe slipped and fell on one of the loader’s levers, tipping the bucket. The farmer fell and hit his head on a pallet, resulting in head injuries. (click here to see original case)

Risks Involved:  Elevated workspace, improper work platform,  no guards or railings on work platform, controls of platform underneath work area,

Risk Mitigation Strategies:  The key issue here is that a loader bucket isn’t a good work platform.  It lacks railings, the surface is often slick and slanted, the controls are at a distance from the person in the bucket, and the controls are vulnerable to falling objects as seen in this case.  There are a variety of work platforms that would have been appropriate for this situation, especially since the height requirement was only about 6 feet.  The original analysis of the case study recommends a platform fitted to a vertical mast forklift or on a boom (like a cherry picker) but  I think a portable scaffold would work just as well and would be much less expensive.  Depending on the tools and space needed to fix the pipe, a warehouse ladder/rolling staircase or traditional ladder might also have worked.   The key is to choose a work platform with a clean level working surface that has enough space for you and your tools,  and making sure that the platform can’t move while you are working.  A platform with a railing is ideal because even if a slip or fall occurs, it is less likely that you will fall to a lower level.

The bottom line: Elevated work is a regular occurrence on the farm.  Adjustable height rolling scaffolds, rolling staircases, and safer ladders have come down in price (many are under $200) and a wide variety of designs are available to suit different needs. The materials have improved considerably too, so many of the new designs are lighter, stronger, and longer-lasting than the wooden versions you may be familiar with. Thinking about the kinds of elevated work you do and investing in an elevated work platform that fits your needs could save you from having to deal with an injury later on.