There is still some confusion concerning the use of semi-automatic quick couplers across Europe. To help clarify the situation, particularly in the UK, the Construction Equipment Association has issued some new guidance.
Work towards a new standard for quick couplers was triggered by a series of accidents involving semi-automatic types of couplers. As the CEA points out, "In order to be safe these semi-automatic couplers require the manual operation of a safety device on the coupler (usually the insertion of a safety pin) after the picking up of each bucket."
Following a request by the UK's Health and Safety Executive, this type of coupler is no longer being sold as new on the UK market, but, says the CEA, existing semi-automatic couplers can continue to be used provided that the safety pin is inserted properly each and every time the coupler is used.
To be clear, automatic quick couplers (like the one pictured) are those where a safety device engages automatically when the bucket is picked up without any manual action being required from the operator. All the hydraulically powered couplers placed on the UK market now should be the automatic type, says the CEA.
The Association goes on to say, "Some recent communications have led to a misunderstanding of the status of discussions in the drafting of the new standards relating to automatic couplers. For example, certain contractors have announced their intention to ban all semi-automatic and automatic excavator quick couplers from their sites that do not lock onto both pins of the bucket.
"Contrary to some assertions in the market it is not clear that this view will be carried through into the new standards - as those standards are still very much under discussion. It is too early to say what the outcome will be after careful consideration of all the arguments.
"It is, however, the intention of all those involved in developing the new standards that semi-automatics will be ruled out."
As far as standards are concerned, a new edition of EN 474-1 is due shortly, but this will not involve quick couplers. According to the CEA, a change concerning quick couplers is expected to be published towards the end of 2010, with its mandatory application being some time around mid 2012. Couplers sold in the EU after that time will need to conform to the new safety level of the standard.
On a worldwide scale, the CEA reports that ISO 13031 will be worked on over the next two years and, after publication in around 2011, will gradually become the norm worldwide. The CEA guidance document then states, "It is the intention of all those involved in the standards committees that the two standards should not conflict with each other."
Malcolm Kent, Technical Consultant to the CEA, said "Everyone involved in writing the new standards is determined to make sure that only safe couplers are put onto the market in future. Operators need to be confident that what they are using is safe so long as they use it properly.
"There are a number of good couplers on the market and people should have a good look around before making their choice."
Pictured is Miller's recently introduced fully-automatic TwinLock hitch. If there is a loss of engagement force in the hitch, two gravity operated mechanical stops prevent the bucket from falling off the machine.