Investigation of quarry worker death highlights safety

According to The Age, a quarry operator recently pleaded guilty to serious workplace safety breaches in the Victorian County Court. Gary Morrison is the managing director of Tooradin Excavations – formerly TGS Sand and Soil – the operator of a Nyora sand quarry where a worker died in November 2010.

Adrian Dowell, who had been employed with TGS for a decade with “absolutely no history of doing anything unsafe, anything reckless, anything ill-considered”, died of asphyxiation when a quarry wall collapsed and buried him alive.

It was reported that on the day of the incident, Dowell had been operating an excavator in the quarry’s front pit where days of heavy rainfall had caused water seepage about 4m above the floor on the pit wall. Noticing this, the quarry manager warned Dowell to leave the area, directed him to work on a section 50m away and then headed offsite for lunch.

Ten minutes later Dowell made a distress call over the radio but by the time co-workers arrived on the scene he had already died.

Investigation findings
Morrison was reportedly charged with failing to take all reasonable steps to prevent access to an area that WorkCover found to be “formed of weak materials” that were “further destabilised by water”.

The Gold Coast Bulletin quoted the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) as saying, “[The company] knew water was present and seeping on the slope of the morning of the landslide. Their systems of work did not include barricading or other forms of demarcation.”

The defence counsel reportedly admitted that cordoning off the area – which was due to be decommissioned – could have potentially reduced the risk of an accident.

Morrison was also charged with failing to have suitable systems in place to identify and understand geotechnical dangers.

Not long after Dowell’s death, WorkSafe Victoria released a statement calling for a stronger focus on workplace safety.

Ian Forsyth – the WorkSafe executive director for health and safety at the time – said, “While we’ve come a long way in the last 10 years, there’s still much more that can be done to make workplaces safer. We want Victorians to stop and think about what is ultimately important to them, why safe workplaces are needed, and what they can do to prevent more families [suffering the death of a loved one].”

Tooradin Excavation’s penalty – which the DPP stated could be up to $1 million – is expected to be handed down in the coming weeks. However, it was said that Morrison had already been “hit hard” by his employee’s death.

Further information: WorkSafe Victoria has a published a quarry safety guide and the relevant state or territory mines department websites should also feature compliance guidelines.

Sources: The Age, The Gold Coast Bulletin, WorkSafe Victoria

More information
WorkSafe Victoria's health and safety guide to quarries

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