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Quarry death intensifies calls for stronger regulation

WorkSafe New Zealand and the New Zealand police are currently undertaking an investigation into a recent quarry fatality.

Murray Taylor, the 56-year-old owner of Waikari limestone quarrying business Heathstock Haulage, was killed when the excavator he was operating was engulfed by more than 1500 tonnes of rock and debris on 8 June.

An extensive recovery operation combining the efforts of the Canterbury Police, WorkSafe, the New Zealand Fire Service, Alpine Cliff Rescue and other private contractors was delayed by “challenging conditions” and a “complex” physical environment, and Taylor’s body was not recovered until two days after the incident.

Brett Murray, general manager of WorkSafe’s high hazards unit, confirmed to Quarry that Taylor did not hold the appropriate certification required by legislation to manage a quarry.

“Responsibility for ensuring the manager of a quarry holds a certificate of competence, and for operating a safe and healthy workplace lies with each workplace,” he explained. “They have specific obligations under the Health and Safety in Employment Act (NZ) and its regulations.”

Taking deadly risks

While Murray said the cause of the incident was yet to be determined by the ongoing investigation, former New Zealand quarry inspector and manager Andrew Robertson offered stuff.co.nz his opinion, noting that photos appeared to show that the site lacked benches.

“It looks like the excavator was right against the [quarry] face … you never work right against the face and this is something he [Taylor] would have learned in training. You stay the full length of the dipper boom away from the face and you have a trench between at all times so if anything comes down, it goes into that,” he told the New Zealand news website.

Robertson’s comments seemingly underscore the deadly risk that quarry operators take by not ensuring that their workers – or they themselves, as appears to be the case here – have received proper training and carry the appropriate qualifications.

Murray agreed that this was critical for any extractive operation, saying, “The only advice we can give to the [quarrying] sector at this time is to ensure that each operation is managed by an appropriately [certified] manager as required by legislation. This was not the case with this quarry.”

Safety reform

Taylor’s death comes only months after two other quarry machinery fatalities – 43-year-old Scott Baldwin in March and 24-year-old Tane Hill-Ormsby in April.

The deaths sparked calls for the New Zealand Government to incorporate the quarrying industry into health and safety legislation – appeals that have been renewed after the Heathstock Haulage accident. 

Chris Baker, chairman of the National Health and Safety Council for the Mining and Quarry Industry (MinEx), said that for some time, MinEx had argued that the quarry sector should be included in the mining health and safety regulations that were introduced in 2013 after the Pike River mine explosion in November 2010.

“It is my understanding that the quarry industry and WorkSafe New Zealand both agree that the quarry sector should be covered by the 2013 regulations,” he said. “The lack of action on this, and also the delays in passing the Health and Safety Reform Bill [currently before Parliament], are of concern to MinEx and we urge the government to maintain its momentum and commitment to safer workplaces.”

Various other bodies expressed similar sentiments, including New Zealand’s Council of Trade Unions, the Green Party and the Labour Party.

Murray stated that WorkSafe was already taking regulatory action in the quarrying sector.

“WorkSafe is currently cross-correlating data on certificate of competence holders with known quarries,” he said. “We are also building a more exact database of quarries around New Zealand. This approach will identify those operations which are operating within the terms of the regulations. If we identify operations where there is non-compliance, we will investigate.”

He added that WorkSafe had set new requirements for holding certificates of competence, which came into effect on 1 January, 2015. “There is a one-year transition period to allow the completion of the additional required unit standards (education modules),” he explained. “These new requirements will improve the level of knowledge of holders to ensure they are better equipped to supervise health and safety in quarries.”

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Quarry deaths spark calls for reform

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