Hazard: Excavator quick-release attachments

Safety Alert Type: 
Heavy Equipment
Lajoya, Texas
Date of Incident / Close Call: 
Details of Incident / Close Call: 

An excavator operator accidentally released the bucket on his machine while setting up to continue excavation work alongside a gas pipe line. The bucket fell to the ground, striking the pressurized gas pipeline (potential catastrophic explosion). The operator did not know the excavator had a quick release type bucket attachment.

The excavator had 3 controls to prevent unintentional release:

1. A manual pull-to-activate switch in the cab. (functional at the time)

2. A pendulum-like bar that swings into place when the boom extends into the dig position (functional at the time)

3. An audible alarm that sounds when the manual pull switch to release the bucket is activated (not functional at the time)

The operator accidently engaged the activation switch while setting up to dig. As he was not in the dig position at the time, the second control was obsolete. No alarm sounded, though its impact would probably have been minor as the operator did not know the excavator had a quick release attachment.

A review by OSHA revealed that since January 1998, there have been 15 incidents involving the unanticipated release of excavator buckets from quick connectors. Eight workers in the U.S. died in these incidents.

Manufacturers have recognized the hazard and have provided users with a retro-fit locking pin to prevent unintended releases.

Unintended releases appear to continue because:

A. Not all employees who use quick release attachments are aware of the hazard and the manufacturers’ corrective actions;

B. Some users fail to retrofit the quick release locking pins; and

C. Some users have insufficient training on installation procedures associated with the use of quick release attachments.


Learnings and Suggestions: 

If you encounter an Excavator with quick release devices installed, OSHA recommends:

• Inspect all devices to determine if they are subject to unexpected release hazards.

• Determine whether a manually installed locking pin and installation procedures have been provided by the manufacturer. If necessary, obtain and install retrofits recommended by the manufacturer, including positive locking pins and other devices that need to be manually installed.

• Consider the use of newer models that have been specifically designed to prevent the unintended release of attachments.

• Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for maintenance and inspection of unintended release controls for the attachments.

• Train employees in proper use of quick release devices; making visual inspections; procedures for engaging attachments; and methods for testing connections.

(See attached pdf for photos)

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