Trapped worker manages to keep head above water … literally

By Jeff Salton on February 21st, 2017
  1. Risk Management
  2. Risk Assessment

The excavator against a summer landscape

Did you hear about the excavator operator who rolled his machine in a dam and narrowly avoided drowning? It’s not a joke.

Last Wednesday, the 45-year-old man was pinned underwater by the roll bar on his excavator. The incident occurred while the man was working alone in a dam on a rural property near Forster, NSW. He could barely keep his face above water by bending his back awkwardly to keep his face pointed towards the sky. He had to do this for several hours.

He managed to cry out for help and, luckily for him, a passer-by heard his calls and alerted emergency services.

When rescuers arrived, they managed to save the operator by draining the dam and using their bare hands to dig under the operator’s body in order to lower him from where he was pinned against the roll bar and drag him to safety.

“We had two choices, we had to either lift it or dig and lifting wasn’t an option because there was no solid base to push off so we decided we’d dig,” said an emergency worker in an ABC News interview.

The man was taken to hospital in Newcastle in a stable condition.

The Portner Press Health & Safety Handbook has a chapter on reducing the risks of Working Alone. This newly-updated chapter has many helpful tips, checklists and step-by-step instructions on reducing the risks of workers who work alone – either short-term or long-term. The information is not just for equipment operators or construction workers. It applies to any employee working alone, including workers who use their vehicle as their office.

Why you should ensure your workers’ safety

In Inspector Bestre v Jontari Pty Ltd (2006), a company that provided cleaning services to a school was prosecuted for failing to provide a safe system of work after an intruder assaulted a cleaner early one morning. The employer pleaded not guilty on the basis that the assault was an unforeseeable event, and that cleaning is a low-risk activity.

The Court rejected this argument, finding that the risk of an assault was foreseeable, and that the employer could have reduced the risks of working alone through measures such as:

  • carrying out an adequate risk assessment of working alone at the school, which would have identified the high likelihood of the risk;
  • providing a personal alarm;
  • adopting a system of team cleaning;
  • rescheduling work so that it was performed while others were around; and
  • instructing cleaners to lock doors while cleaning.

Some of the risks identified in the Handbook might be things you’ve never considered but could still be applicable to your workers, especially if working alone is not something your employees do regularly.

Don’t risk the health and safety of workers at your organisation who must work alone … or risk penalties for not providing a safe workplace.

Take advantage of the information contained in the Health & Safety Handbook, including downloadable templates and checklists. Written in plain English by health and safety lawyers at Holding Redlich, you can trial Health & Safety Handbook obligation-free.

Do it today.


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