OSHA to update quick coupler hazard bulletin

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will update its safety bulletin concerning quick couplers on hydraulic excavators because of revised measures for accident prevention.

OSHA released the bulletin, titled “Hazards of Unintended Release of Buckets from Quick Couplers on Hydraulic Excavators,” Aug. 26 after a string of 15 accidents, eight of them fatal, were reported by its federal and state offices.

Russ Hutchison, director of technical and safety services with the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, said the updates – expected to be completed in a few months – will correct wording in the “safety measures to prevent accidents” section.

Quick couplers are after-market devices that have been used on hydraulic excavators for several years. Unexpected releases of buckets are due in many cases to the failure of the quick couplers to be properly engaged and locked using a locking pin.

The citation that positive locking pins for the quick coupler must be “manually installed” will be changed to include automatic installation pins manufacturers are producing, according to a preliminary document held by AEM.

Hutchison said manufacturers disagreed with OSHA’s initial bulletin because manual locking pins were not the only option for excavator operators using quick couplers. The automatic locking pins allow the operator to visually check the security of the coupler, ensuring the bucket will not unexpectedly release.

“The approach implied that manual locking pins are the only thing available,” he said. “Manufacturers have gone beyond the manual pin for something more reliable.”

Another issue generated by the initial release of the bulletin was potential lawsuits that could affect excavator manufacturers despite the fact most don’t directly produce quick couplers.

“They were frustrated that they had no influence in the design of the couplers used with their excavators,” Hutchison said. “This is a frustration measured in dollars and cents.”

OSHA’s quick couplers bulletin has caused manufacturers to take corrective action or introduce designs that have significantly decreased the chance of a bucket or other attachment being unintentionally released, according to a statement by the National Utility Contractors Association.

Though the bulletin roused a speedy response by manufacturers, it didn’t seem to have the same effect on contractors.

The Orleans, Ind., contracting firm Reynolds, Inc. was fined $110,000 by OSHA, and issued a “serious citation” on Dec. 14 for failure to ensure a bucket attached to an excavator would not become disengaged due to the absence of fail-safe coupling devices. An employee struck by a bucket disengaged from a quick coupler was killed in that case.

Brad Mitchell, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor’s office of public affairs, said a violation such as the one levied against Reynolds means the company should have known about the potential risk.

“My hope is safety is the first thing they would consider,” Mitchell said.

The OSHA bulletin concludes that unintended releases appear to continue because “not all employees/contractors who use quick couplers are aware of the hazard and the manufacturers’ corrective actions; some users fail to retrofit the quick coupler with locking pins; and some users have insufficient training on installation and testing procedures associated with the use of such couplers.”

Edward Pachico, associate director of safety and health services for the Associated General Contractors of America, said his organization informs members of all bulletins released by OSHA, but getting the word out to smaller contractors who may not be members of a professional organization is a problem.

Frank Meilinger, a spokesperson for OSHA, said the initial quick coupler bulletin was not part of a formal outreach effort. He said it was shared with all offices of compliance on national and local levels.

Once the revised version of the bulletin is complete, Meilinger said it would be part of a broad information campaign by OSHA.

Patrick Beeson can be contacted at [email protected].