Zero harm workplaces a worthy aspiration

Last month, my family and I attended a 40th birthday party. It was a great opportunity for my wife Tam and I to catch up with old friends and for our 19-month-old daughter Talia to mix and mingle with other children of varying ages.

While at the party, Talia and I wandered in the back garden and inspected the extensive vegetable patch. She practised the words for some of the veggies – although she wasn’t convinced about the corn. Corn is yellow; all she saw was a green husk!

However, the big toy dump truck that was being ignored by the other kids was yellow. Talia relished the chance to push the truck around, yelling “Beep! Beep!” to any unfortunate adult who strayed onto her path! Talia so enjoyed herself that we bought her a toy dump truck the following weekend.

I’m not sure if Talia will one day work in the construction materials industry but if she does, I certainly hope by then the industry would be a zero harm workplace. Talia would go to work safely and return home unharmed to her own family.

For one family over the Easter period, a young mother did not make it home. A 30-year-old dump truck driver died at Nyora Quarry in South Gippsland on 1 March. She is survived by her fiancé and nine-month-old daughter.

WorkSafe Victoria is investigating the woman’s death. Her employer Metro Quarry Group is co-operating with the investigation and has expressed its condolences to her family.

It was noticed in the media that Nyora Quarry was coincidentally the site of another workplace accident in 2010. Back then, TGS Sand and Soil owned the quarry. One of its long-term workers died when a quarry wall collapsed on his excavator. In November 2014, TGS pleaded guilty to workplace safety breaches in the Victorian County Court.

Metro Quarry Group reportedly experienced challenges in enforcing health and safety discipline amongst its workers after it acquired the Nyora site from TGS in 2013. The safety culture was described in formal proceedings as “lackadaisical” and the site had many compliance issues. To its credit, Metro introduced a full suite of new safety initiatives, including a zero tolerance policy for drug and alcohol consumption. It subsequently dismissed a worker who showed a gross disregard for complying with the new regime. I’m sure it’s disheartening for Metro that despite its efforts to promote a strong safety culture at Nyora, a death has occurred on its watch.

The Nyora experience illustrates that a strong workplace health and safety (WHS) culture is fundamental to an organisation’s success. It requires the teamwork of everyone from the company director to the weighbridge operator to make it work. If no one treats WHS seriously, the organisation falls apart.

Even plant and equipment suppliers are learning that they are not exempt from practising safety standards and compliance that is lacking on their customers’ sites. A former industry supplier is counting the cost of failing to discharge a WHS obligation. A 21-year-old quarry worker in a Queensland quarry died in 2012 when he became entangled in a conveyor belt. The supplier allegedly did not quality assure the conveyor. The company directors have pleaded guilty to negligence.

Perhaps the quarrying and mining sectors will never completely achieve zero harm workplaces but it is an aspiration worth pursuing – and it requires 100 per cent commitment and co-operation from everyone in the industry. It would be fantastic if one day my daughter could enjoy working in a safe environment in the quarrying industry – while observing and complying with safety as well. This includes driving dump trucks responsibly around adult pedestrians!

But if the quarry industry wants to recruit future prospects like Talia – particularly at a time when the presence of women and young people in the minerals sector is declining – then every quarry operation, in conjunction with associations like the IQA, work safety authorities and state governments, cannot afford to forsake safety.

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