The Western Australian mine safety regulator has highlighted risks of using rope access systems on mine walls when undertaking scaling operations. the warning comes after a range of incidents across the mining industry.
The use of rope access systems to access walls for scaling presents with a range of hazardous conditions including falling rocks from geotechnical instability to a range of challenges associated with rescue from rope access systems.
The mine safety regulator stated in a recent bulletin that “Manual scaling with rope access on steep slopes should not be used unless it is absolutely necessary and other alternatives are impracticable. The following actions are recommended to manage risks associated with working on pit walls.”
It highlighted a range of incidents in the release including a fatal accident that occurred in March 2017 at an open pit in Tasmania. The regulator said that the four technicians were working off ropes, manually scaling loose rocks from a pit wall in preparation for the construction of a catch fence.
“While they were standing on one of the berms, a large rockfall occurred directly above them, which struck one of the workers causing fatal injuries. The other three workers were able to abseil to the bench below.”
Four incidents associated with personnel working on walls with rope access systems have also occurred in WA mining operations. The regulator said that the incidents involved near miss or injuries to persons.
- In August 2016, six rope technicians were hand scaling a section of an open pit in readiness for meshing. A rock fell from above, striking one of the workers, resulting in injuries to his forehead, thigh and knee.
- In January 2018, two rope technicians were hydro-scaling a section of a pit wall. The technicians stopped their task and began ascending the wall for a break when around 75 tonnes of rock fell from the wall. Two large rocks (approximately 2m x 2m x 1m) landed on the berm about 10 metres from where the technicians had been working.
- In November 2019, a section of the pit wall was being scaled using airbags in preparation for ground support. During the wall scaling, around 5000 tonnes of material was mobilised from the wall. Some material fell close to a crane that was operating on the pit floor near the designated exclusion zone.
- In January 2020, a rope technician was struck on the foot by a rock while scaling a pit wall with a scaling bar.
You can read the full safety bulletin on rope access systems here.
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