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7.3 metre fall from height during construction

fall from height
A 7.3m fall had potential to be fatal

A worker at a quarry in NSW had a lucky escape when he fell from an access platform that was being constructed. According to reports, the worker was not wearing fall protection at the time of the incident. A fall from height is a known cause of workplace fatalities across Australia.

The NSW Resources Regulator has once again alerted the industry to work at heights risk in a safety bulletin. The regulator said that the “hazards of working at heights and the appropriate use of working at heights equipment was highlighted when a quarry worker fell more than 7 m during the construction of a guardrail on a conveyor gantry.”

“The worker involved was not wearing working at heights equipment at the time of the incident.” the regulator said.

The regulator outlined the scenario leading up to the incident.

At 3.15pm on Tuesday 25 September 2018 two quarry workers were completing the construction of an access platform and guardrails onto a sand conveyor gantry.

The workers were on a platform at the end of the conveyor gantry. One worker had just tack welded the final two horizontal bars of galvanised steel guard rail. As they repositioned themselves on the walkway, the second worker put his hand out onto the top guard rail which had just been tacked into position.

The weld holding the top guard rail failed. The second worker fell from the conveyor gantry taking both the top and mid guard rails with him. The worker fell 7.3 metres and landed horizontally face down into a 200 mm deep sand pile adjacent to an elevated work platform (EWP) basket. The second worker suffered a cut nose but was conscious, winded and in shock.

The worker was admitted to hospital overnight and was released the next day.

Following the incident a Resources Regulator inspector attended the incident and the mine operator also undertook an investigation.

The regulator’s incident investigation determined that:

  • the rules for introduction of plant were not followed as set out in: o the mechanical engineering control plan o introduction to site of plant o new plant and equipment process and product procedures;
  • there was no evidence of engineering design documentation or a design risk assessment for the construction of the sand stacker;
  • the site’s rules for hot work state that all hot work activities shall only be performed by personnel with suitable qualifications or competencies. There was no evidence that the workers carrying out the welding activities were suitably qualified or competent.
  • the site’s rules for working at heights state that all fall hazards will be identified through risk assessment in consultation with health and safety representatives or employees and controls put in place. There was no evidence of a risk assessment or suitable controls being in place.

The message of the regulator highlights the inherent risks for maintenance and engineering personnel when constructing access ways and platforms. Invariably, the request for a platform is issued to engineering and maintenance departments to mitigate risks for other mine workers accessing high working areas.

The design and methods of construction have frequently exposed maintenance and engineering personnel to significant fall from height risks when suitable risk controls aren’t adopted. Similar incidents of this type have been repeated many times across the Australian Mining industry and a range of other industries.

It’s during shut down maintenance, that often fitters and tradespersons are exposed to significant fall risks. Ensuring that an effective fall protection program exists can mitigate such risks.

In order to minimise a fall from height, the regulator recommended that Mine operators must:

  • monitor work to verify risk controls identified in their mechanical engineering control plan are implemented and effective
  • ensure the competency of workers undertaking welding activities
  • develop and implement effective controls to manage the risks associated with working at heights.

Image: NSW Resources Regulator

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AMSJ April 2022