A new guide to the safe use of quick-hitches has been published in the UK outlining the responsibilities of all those involved in the use and planning of construction equipment.

The guidelines, the result of a partnership between the Health & Safety Executive and the Strategic Forum's Plant Safety Group, were launched at the recent Executive Hire Show by the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA), which has led the drafting of the document.
The document follows accidents involving semi-automatic quick-hitches, which resulted last year in a voluntary ban on the hitches, which is being observed by the suppliers.

However, the guidelines consider the use of all types of quick-hitches; manual, semi-automatic and fully-automatic. Colin Wood, the managing director of the CPA, told IRN that while the initial focus was on the safety of semi-automatic hitches; "It became clear that it wasn't just a question of banning semi-automatics. As you investigate it, you find that there are accidents with fully-automatic hitches as well."

"The bottom line is that nothing is full-proof - even second generation fully-automatic hitches need to be maintained. We are insisting that even with full automatics the operator has to come out of the cab to check it", said Mr Wood.

The document outlines the responsibilities of both managers and operators in the use of quick-hitches. CPA is hoping that rental companies and contractors will make themselves aware of the guidelines; "We estimate that there are 50000 semi-automatic hitches in service, and probably the same number of fully automatics." Although semi-automatics are no longer being sold in the UK, there is no ban on the use of semi-automatics still in service.

Mr Wood said that operators needed to be aware of the dangers and their own responsibilities. "If the hitch falls off, the operator is the first port of call...it needs to be made clear by companies to operators."
The 47 page document can be downloaded at no cost from the CPA website (www.cpa.uk.net).

The CPA has also issued a 10-point safety guide:

1. Keep other workers away from the machine's working range. Never work under the bucket or attachment. Ensure that your site supervisors enforce this rule.

2. Make sure that your operators are aware of their personal and legal responsibility to use all quick hitches safely. Serious misuse of quick hitches should always be treated as gross misconduct which could well lead to dismissal.

3. Operators should be made aware that criminal convictions for misuse of quick hitches have already led to prison sentences for operators.

4. Check that all operators confirm that the quick hitch is properly engaged every time they change an attachment. It is essential that this is done by close inspection at the quick hitch, which will normally entail the operator getting down from the cab. It is best practice to make this a requirement for all quick hitches.

5. Check that site supervisors understand that the operator has to fully confirm that the quick hitch is properly engaged. Make sure site supervisors allow operators time to do this.

6. Check that site supervisors monitor that operators are confirming proper engagement, by spot checks.

7. Check that machines are in good order, and all quick hitches are included in the maintenance plan and subject to proper maintenance.

8. Check that operators and maintenance personnel have specific instructions for the combination of machine, quick hitch and attachment.

9. Confirm that your operators are competent to use the specific quick hitch in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions and your safe system of work.

10. Forbid practices such as ‘pick and place' (moving attachments without properly engaging the locking devices).

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