Are semi-automatic hitches being banned? What will we have to do in future?

In the construction industry a number of serious incidents, including four fatalities since December 2006, have involved safety pin semi-automatic hitches. As a result, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) plans to ban their use on new machines by implementing a UK-only safeguard action against section EN474 - the part that covers quick hitches - of the EU Machinery Directive.

From 1 October, leading manufacturers have agreed with the HSE not to supply semi-automatic hitches on new excavators sold into the UK market. The HSE says it has no plans to ban existing semi-automatic quick hitches that use safety pins.

For new excavators, the HSE is proposing that powered couplers have an automatic device - such as that in the Geith Claw system - to prevent the attachment from falling off in the event of a loss of hydraulic pressure. There must also be an indicator, visible from inside the cab, to show the device is secure. The Geith Claw has this facility.

Automatic hitches have other benefits - notably in terms of manpower. Wisbech-based ADS Groundworks has converted the semi-automatic hitches on the company's 14-tonne Doosan excavators to the Geith Claw Auto-Lock Quick Hitch from Doosan Infracore International Attachments. Director Harry Smith explains: "The investment in the new automatic hitches is justified not only by increased operational and site safety, but also by savings in manpower as a second person is not required to ensure a safety pin is in place. The Geith automatic hitch is a one-man operation and the operator does not have to leave the cab during the operation of detaching and changing attachments."

- Sally Drury has reported for HW and its forerunner GC&HTJ for 25 years, and has spent more than five years testing machinery for HW and What Kit? The advice in this helpline is independent.


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