Rio Tinto`s Bengalla mine was the scene of an accident involving a dozer and a water-filled hole.
The Cat D11 dozer was semi-submerged as the driver battled to free the machine from the huge test hole he was working around.Everyday mine site accidents can be avoided, however if mining accidents turn into a drowning, there is added concern for new measures to be put in place.
Rio Tinto are being investigated by the New South Wales Mine Safety Investigation Unit as to how the D11 dozer managed to slide into a deep, water-filled test hole in back in November 2013. The hole was 5 metres deep and could have proved fatal if the driver had been trapped inside the cab.
According to the New South Wales Mine Safety unit, this is the fourth mining accident in Hunter Valley coal mines in the last four years where a dozer was involved.
The hole that the D11 slid into had been excavated two days earlier into a 5 metre thick overburden bench in an active mining area, to determine the depth of coal beneath. Due to inclement weather, the hole had filled with rain water. The incident has been classed as a high potential incident.
On the day of the incident, the dozer driver approached the water-filled hole by reversing close to the edge. He stopped the dozer to test the depth of the water using the ripper blade.
During this manoeuvre, the dozer slid backwards into the hole. As water filled the cabin space, the driver managed to escape by opening the right hand door handle with his foot. Clearly this incident could have ended in a fatality if the driver had not been so quick to respond to the emergency.
Rio Tinto management have taken steps to make sure this type of incident does not happen again in the future.
Some of the improvements include the use of guide posts and a reference beacon around the hazard. They also implemented a new requirement as part of their Mine Site Hazard Management Plan to allow supervisors to be notified of any holes that have been dug. These details will be recorded in the shift statutory inspection book.
We have to wonder whythis was not implemented in the first place – it stands as a reminder of the importance of risk assessment and hazard management on a mine site.
The NSW investigation unit said the accident highlighted the importance of an “effective risk management program concerning the excavation of test holes on benches and dozers operating in wet and unconsolidated ground conditions.”
Over the years, there have been a number of incidents where dozers have been submerged and the operator was subjected to water filling the cabins – yet the accident in 2013 happened despite past experiences. Additional training should be made compulsory for all machinery operators to avoid any further accidents such as this occurring in future.
A spokesperson for Coal & Allied said the safety of its workers is a top priority. They have worked with the NSW Government`s Chief Inspector for the mining industry and the Mines Investigation Unit to make certain the incident was investigated and in turn Rio Tinto have introduced new measures that dramatically reduce the risk of similar accidents happening again.
This accident is another timely reminder of the hazards and hidden dangers operators of heavy machinery face on a daily basis. Risk taking and shortcuts are commonplace in the mining industry, despite regular training and refresher courses.
In all situations, time should be taken to first perform the necessary risk assessment tasks before attempting any manoeuvre that has the slightest chance of a dangerous outcome.
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