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Blast incident highlights importance of planning

UK business WCD Sleeman and Sons was fined £30,000 ($AUD58,470) and ordered to pay £20,000 ($AUD38,967) in costs after a UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation identified “serious control failings” in a blast at Moons Hill Quarry in Somerset.

The blast, which took place on 7 February, 2012, was said to have sent flyrock of up to 15kg in size outside of the designated blast zone towards quarry employees and onto a nearby public highway, endangering road users.

According to HSE inspectors, the blast was not properly planned and too much explosive was used in an area where the ground was already broken. Risk reduction measures were also said to have been inadequate.

“This was a very serious incident, which put both members of the public and employees at serious risk of being hit by rocks and could easily have led to death or serious injury,” HSE inspector Catherine Pickett stated. “Blasting operations at quarries are potentially very dangerous. The risks must be rigorously controlled by good explosives engineering practice and in accordance with legal requirements.”

Pickett also noted that this was not the first time WCD Sleeman and Sons had “put people at considerable risk”. In July 2013, the same business was fined £20,000 ($AUD38,967) and ordered to pay £17,000 ($AUD33,171) in costs for a similar incident involving a blast at Brayford Quarry in Devon. Debris from the explosion narrowly missed hitting a quarry employee and damaged two cars, and the quarry operator, Hanson Quarry Products Europe, was also fined.

“I hope [WCD Sleeman and Sons] take more heed of the lessons to be learned,” Pickett said. “Quarrying remains one of the most dangerous industries to work in with 3250 injuries, including 27 fatalities, reported to HSE since 2000. Proper planning and control is required at all times in the quarrying industry. The option of stopping and re-evaluating the blasting operation for safety is always available to shotfirers, and in this case would have avoided danger.”

Safe blasting practice

When Quarry asked Stuart Thomson, Orica’s customer solutions manager for the Australia-Pacific region, what quarry operators should consider when planning blasts, he agreed that the use of appropriate risk management techniques combined with a clear understanding of, and adherence to, local mine rules and statutory regulations would contribute to safer and more efficient blasting.

“Integrated blast management plans should address all aspects of blasting, aiming to optimise outcomes for safety, productivity, cost and the quarry’s licence to operate,” he said. “These [licence to operate] considerations include controlling potential blast effects such as vibration, airblast, noise and flyrock.”

Thomson recommended putting procedures in place to ensure all blasting-related tools and equipment were regularly checked and correctly used. He also suggested that upgrading this equipment could potentially enhance blasting operations.

“A range of new technologies now ensure quarry managers have greater control over outcomes,” Thomson explained. “[There are a] wider range of bulk explosives that allow quarry managers to select the correct energy level to match the site’s geology and operational objectives. Accurate timing in electronic blasting systems can better control the movement of energy in the rock mass. Tools such as blast design and modelling software allow quarries to predict and manage blast outcomes. [And] measurement tools such as vibration monitors ensure a consistent feed of data to enable continual improvement.”

Thomson noted that other important strategies to consider included consulting with local community, conducting site-specific induction and training programs, and making written standard working procedures available to employees.

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