ATSB puts focus on sling load safety after accident

ATSB Press Release | March 9, 2020

Estimated reading time 2 minutes, 16 seconds.

The ATSB is highlighting the precautions necessary for sling load operations after a load unexpectedly fell from a Bell 205 helicopter, striking and seriously injuring a worker on the ground.

Photos show the occurrence load during departure from the loading site. ATSB Imagine
Photos show the occurrence load during departure from the loading site. ATSB Imagine

The helicopter, registration VH-HUE, was being used for external sling loading operations to move equipment from a staging area near Tantangara Dam to a drilling site about three kilometers away, south-east of Talbingo, New South Wales, on Jan. 10, 2019. As the helicopter approached the drop-off site, the load, comprising drill rod racks weighing about 1,200 kilograms, unexpectedly disconnected from the cargo hook. The falling load struck and seriously injured a loadmaster assisting on the ground.

In the course of investigating the incident, the ATSB examined the slings, shackle and hook, but could not determine the reason for the load being released from the hook. However, the ATSB found that the ground personnel had not been maintaining a safe distance from the load.

This incident highlights the dangers associated with external sling load operations.

“This incident highlights the dangers associated with external sling load operations,” ATSB director transport safety Stuart Macleod said. “Unexpected events can occur, and ground personnel should take care to ensure they maintain their separation from external slung loads that are above head height.”

In this accident, the positioning of the ground personnel, in combination with the significant movement of the load as it contacted the ground, meant that they were exposed to higher risk.

“Each sling load operation can be unique, with different locations, different load shape, and different environmental conditions combining to create different safety considerations,” Macleod said. “As a consequence, clear written procedures and detailed discussions prior to commencement of each operation are essential to ensure that all participants are aware of the unique dangers of the operation.”

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