4WD recoveries can be deadly; please take care

A few days ago a young man in Queensland went out to recover a mates bogged 4WD, and paid the ultimate price. The news are saying a shackle broke free and came through the window, killing him. An absolutely terrible tragedy, and we pass our condolences onto his family and those affected.

I’ve written a number of posts over the years trying to encourage people to perform safe recoveries, and seeing another death on the news is truly gut wrenching. 4WD recoveries can be deadly. Please let that sink in. For a full list, check out 4WD recovery deaths in Australia.

4WD Recovery with safety
Next time you get stuck, take some time to set up a safe 4WD Recovery

In July 2015 a 17 year old boy was hit in the head during a 4WD recovery. Fortunately he survived after many days in critical condition, but he got very, very lucky.

In August 2011 a lady was killed in a 4WD recovery near Geraldton in WA, when a tow ball broke off and hit her.

There have been more in Australia, and plenty more worldwide (several video’s online show this), and something has to change. Here’s a post to get you started; 20 things you should never do in a 4WD Recovery.

4WD recoveries can kill you

Unfortunately, often people approach 4WD recoveries in a dangerous way, unintentionally or otherwise. If you’ve never been shown, perhaps you don’t realise the forces involved. If you haven’t had much to do with it, we had a guest post written by a structural engineer who has comprehensively covered the 4WD recovery forces, and the results are absolutely mind bending.

Please, take a second to make sure your 4WD recoveries are safe. We don’t want anymore deaths or injuries.

Who, and when are you at risk in a 4WD recovery?

You might think only those in the 4WD’s are at risk, but that’s not always the case. Anyone including drivers, passengers and bystanders within about 50 metres of a 4WD recovery are at risk (generally 3 times the length of your recovery). This applies to both the vehicle being recovered, and the recovery vehicle.

Using a snatch strap

4WD recoveries are most dangerous when you are using a snatch strap. For under $100 you can pick one up, and most 4WD’s that head off road carry one. The thing is though, they aren’t suitable for a lot of recoveries, and that’s when things can get nasty.

They are an easy, quick option that can have some truly terrible results if it goes wrong. Think about how much it hurts when you flick an elastic band at someone. When a snatch strap breaks, it does the same thing as an elastic band, just with many, many times the amount of force.

Here’s a post I wrote a little while ago – When should you use a snatch strap?

Snatch straps are dangerous
Using a Snatch strap needs to be with extreme care

Using a winch

Winching is also extremely dangerous, even if the load is applied more gently than a snatch strap. Cables can, and do break regularly, and if not set up properly they can be just as dangerous.

Winch recovery
Winches can be very dangerous too

What else contributes to risk in 4WD recoveries?

Lack of education and training

There is no formal training required to operate a 4WD. You can use winches, snatch straps, pulleys and a variety of other tools without having had any training on them at all, and that’s a very dangerous position for untrained people to be in.

In industry, you can’t move a load without doing a 5 day dogman course, and 4WD recoveries are often substantially more dangerous than general rigging work.

Unsafe 4WD recovery
I’ve seen some sketchy 4WD recoveries even locally

She’ll be right attitude

Aussies tend to be pretty laid back people, but you can’t afford to take chances when it comes to 4WD recoveries. Before you attach a strap or cable to a point, have a think about whether its actually designed to take the load. Unless its an aftermarket point, it probably isn’t!

Take a moment to have a think about your recovery before you do it; the risk/reward ratio is majorly skewed against you.

Tow balls

I’m glad this has received a bit more publicity over the years, but I still see people using tow balls to recover off. They aren’t designed for that, and will break, and will kill you if they hit you. Take the hitch out, use the pin or a recovery hitch or aftermarket recovery point. Here’s the post covering this more – Tow Balls in 4WD Recoveries can kill you.

Tow ball 4WD Recovery
Tow Balls are not safe for 4WD recoveries!

Shackles attached to unsafe objects

In 4WD recoveries, most people use the 4.75 tonne shackles. You can get away with the 3.25, but they aren’t as common. These usually have a safety factor of 6:1, so a 4.75 tonne shackle needs about 28 tonnes of force to break. Used correctly, you won’t break a shackle.

However, you can very easily break what they are attached to, and if that happens you’ve basically got the same result. at 1kg, plus what ever its attached to, you have easily enough weight to do some major damage.

4WD recovery points
That’s not a rated recovery point!

Reducing the risk

There are lots of things you can, and should be doing to reduce the risk. I’ll cover the most important ones below:

  • Always use a dampener or two
  • Make sure your recovery points are stamped with a weight rating, and in good condition (bolts included!)
  • Make sure both parties check the attachment points before doing a 4WD recovery
  • Use a shovel before getting Snatch Straps or Winches out
  • Maxtrax, or other recovery boards are a much safer option
  • Stand at least 3 times the length of your winch cable or snatch strap away. No exceptions
  • Use a bridal where possible, spreading the load over two recovery points
  • Don’t use a snatch strap on a badly bogged vehicle. This is especially important in mud, but it does apply to sand as well. Winches are better for badly stuck vehicles!

Please share this around, and lets reduce the number of unsafe 4WD recoveries done in Australia!

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