Review after resort death

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The tragic death of a Queenstown man has sparked a nationwide review of parking brake testing.

It’s been nearly two years since Phillip Anderson Loving, known as Andy, died after being hit by a liquid waste truck that rolled backwards down an incline.

Coroner Anna Tutton has found the 63-year-old died of “massive traumatic head and neck injuries”.

Tutton has made several recommendations as a result of his death, including an overhaul of the warrant of fitness process to include testing handbrakes going both forwards and backwards.

That was met with a lukewarm response from NZ Transport Agency at first, but it now says it’s reviewing testing requirements.

Loving was at his Closeburn Station home on April 10, 2017, when the incident occurred.

The property had an aerated wastewater system in a concrete tank, which was emptied by specially-modified trucks.

Tutton, in her findings, writes the driver had ensured the truck was parked level on the newly-formed access, but it still rolled backwards.

“After emptying the tank, the driver began to pack away the hoses. Mr Loving went to the top of the tank to look at the filter inside. The truck driver joined him and another man. As they all looked down into the tank, the truck rolled backwards and both Mr Loving and the driver were struck by the rear of the truck.”

Loving died instantly.

The truck was fitted with Cardan shaft brakes – and it wasn’t the first time such brakes had failed.

“An identified issue with such brakes is that they work better in forward than reverse [direction, not gear],” Tutton finds.

“This disparity is believed to have contributed to several situations nationwide where a vehicle has ‘held’ in a forward direction but failed in reverse.”

As it stands, WOF assessors don’t test the effectiveness of the handbrake to hold a vehicle in reverse, Tutton says.

“I consider a review of the requirements and testing of parking brakes is required, so as to assess and ensure their effectiveness going both forwards and backwards.”

A review, coupled with new testing processes that assess the effectiveness of parking brakes in either direction, is likely to reduce the chances of deaths similar to Loving’s, she finds.

When first contacted by the coroner about her recommendations, NZTA vehicle standards principal engineer Dave Schumacher argued performing a stall test in reverse was “likely to cause permanent damage to either the parking brake or driveline and wouldn’t be recommended”.

“Notwithstanding mechanical damage, performing the ‘stall test’ in reverse is also likely to create its own health and safety concerns at vehicle inspection facilities due to the inherent reduced field of vision.”

NZTA questioned the need for additional testing, but agreed to “consider a review of the requirements and testing of parking brakes to ensure the risk to safety is minimised”.

An NZTA spokesman tells the testing requirements for parking brakes is now underway.

That includes investigating systems used in other countries to assess the effectiveness of a vehicle’s parking brake.

NZTA’s also helped WorkSafe develop and release a technical bulletin to raise awareness, the spokesman says.

Last April, WorkSafe announced it would not prosecute anyone over Loving’s death.

daisy.hudson@scene.co.nz