Call for UK ban on semi-automatic quick hitches

By Sandy Guthrie10 September 2010

The use of semi-automatic quick-hitches is under scrutiny again in the UK after an inquest into the death of an engineer killed when a falling excavator bucket struck him on the head.

A mandatory ban on semi-automatic quick-hitches has been called for by the family of the victim, Mark Handford. They have expressed the hope that the construction industry learns vital lessons from his death.

After a coroner's jury recorded a verdict of Accidental Death into the incident, the Handfords urged all construction firms to take every necessary step to ensure that a similar tragedy could never happen again, including an urgent mandatory ban on semi-automatic quick-hitches.

The 22-year-old died just over a year ago. The three-day hearing was told that Mark Handford was working on a building site in Redditch, Worcestershire, last August, when he was hit on the head by a falling bucket from an excavator, suffering fatal head injuries.

Speaking on behalf of the Handford family, solicitor Rebecca Hearsey from the Midlands' office of law firm Irwin Mitchell said: "The family believes that the type of coupler used to attach the bucket to the digger offers too much scope for things to go wrong."

She added that the family felt that the construction plant industry should revisit a voluntary ban ­- implemented in October 2008 - which meant that semi-automatic couplers would not be supplied for new machines in the UK, while pre-existing units remained legal.

Hearsey said, "The Handfords believe that, given the number of units still in use in this country, it could take some considerable time for this mechanism to be phased out as and when machines come to the end of their use, and so feel that an outright mandatory ban should be put in place now."

Evidence from a Health & Safety Executive (HSE) expert confirmed that in the Handford accident, it was probable that the excavator was turned off when the bucket came away. Hydraulic pressure should have been sufficient to keep the bucket safely attached and, in the event of hydraulic failure, a safety pin should have been in place, which in turn should have been secured by a clip.

The expert concluded that the main safety pin could not have been in place when the bucket fell. The safety pin - which may not even have been the one supplied or a correct one - was found on the ground near the excavator following the incident. However, the clip which should have held the pin in place was never found. A failure in the hydraulics meant that the bucket was released and the safety pin which should have worked as a back up, was not in place, allowing the bucket to fall.

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