'Safety hero' injured in safety incident
A mining company has been fined $300,000 after a contracted worker was seriously injured when he fell through an inlet on a conveyor belt.
The incident in the case, McColm v Endeavour Coal Pty Limited (2022), occurred in 2018, after Endeavour Coal Pty Ltd (Endeavour) engaged several workers to help replace the existing scraper conveyor at the Appin Colliery coal mining site.
The newly installed conveyor lacked the guardrails and emergency-stop lanyard systems, which had been in place on the old scraper conveyor. Workers were forced to rely on their cap lamps when working on the new conveyor, as the roof lighting was not operational. The new conveyor system also had an inlet hole that would allow operators to shovel materials directly onto the conveyor belt. The inlet hole, which measured 300mm in length and 280mm in width, was covered by flexible wire mesh to prevent contact with the moving parts, however, there were no guard rails surrounding the inlet.
The contracted worker, who was walking along the top guards of the conveyor, stepped on and fell through the mesh-covered inlet, and his right foot became entangled in the moving parts. He sustained serious injuries to his right foot as a result.
Endeavour pleaded guilty to failing to ensure, as far as was reasonably practicable, the health and safety of the workers installing the scraper conveyor.
The injured worker was employed by Mastermine Pty Ltd, which had been engaged by Endeavour pursuant to a service agreement. The Court heard that several weeks before the incident, the worker had been awarded the ‘Safety Hero of the Month’ award by his employer for his continued commitment to safety, evident in the hazard identification reports and risk assessments that he prepared.
The Court identified several key failings of Endeavour, including its failure to:
- ensure the ‘Site Introduction of Plant – General Equipment Form’ was completed and signed-off;
- undertake an assessment of the new scraper conveyor and the work environment created by its installation;
- conduct a risk assessment for the installation of the mesh covering the inlet hole; and
- apply the Appin Change Management Procedure after having modified the top guards on the scraper conveyor.
Endeavour was convicted and fined $300,000.
After the incident, Endeavour carried out significant safety improvements, which included:
- re-establishing the roof lighting above the conveyor;
- re-instating the emergency stop lanyard;
- replacing the top guards with a steel guarding that was bolted in place; and
- requiring that an engineer inspect the machine prior to applying electrical or mechanical power.
What can you learn from this case?
The failure to provide guarding on machines remains one of the most foreseeable risks of injury, particularly in highly automated industries. All persons conducting a business or undertaking have an obligation to properly risk assess the operation of their plant and equipment to ensure that the highest levels of controls are implemented to guard against hazards.
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