Plant & Equipment

Participatory ergonomics program prompts safety rethink

Seven years as a quarry operator has left Frank McDonald in no doubt about the crucial role physical health plays
in his work life. {{image2-A:R-w:250}}

This is why he and his colleagues at Metromix’s Marrangaroo quarry in the New South Wales Central West region did not need much coaxing to take part in an innovative program aimed at reducing the number of musculoskeletal injuries in the state’s quarries.

McDonald said the key to working safer and smarter in his industry was to think differently about how to tackle the huge range of physically demanding tasks at a quarry. 

“I have already been hurt once in the industry and I don’t want to see any of my workmates go through the same experience,” McDonald said after taking part in a collaborative participatory ergonomics program with the IQA’s Central West sub-branch and NSW Mine Safety from February to April. {{image3-A:R-w:250}}

It is early days for the program but its message – delivered by a very blunt marketing campaign – is already being heard.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the most common causes of workers’ compensation claims, with almost half of a quarry’s workplace injuries being related to MSDs. Furthermore, manual handling related claims cost the industry about $7 million a year, NSW Trade & Investment Mine Safety’s Kylie Newton said.

Newton, a practice leader in health and human factors, created the ergonomics program and motivated the participants to get involved.

With the support of senior mine safety officers Ron Dillon and Mike Skeen, the program took off.{{image4-A:R-w:250}}

An MSD is any injury to muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments, cartilage or spinal discs. They are quite common and most people at some point – either at work or at home – have experienced an MSD-related injury. These injuries can occur suddenly as a result of a single forceful exertion or as an accumulation of small injuries over time.

Participative ergonomics is an academically proven process for reducing MSDs. It relies on maximising the involvement of workers, managers and supervisors to help put ergonomics initiatives into place. The principle of participatory ergonomics is to develop controls for the characteristics of hazardous manual tasks, which include sustained force, exertion, awkward postures, repetitive movements, exposure to vibration andbtask duration.

Raising the profile of MSD issues in the workplace is a key part of the program. It does this through the Don’t Make Yourself Bloody Useless program.

The marketing campaign, the resources of which were developed after extensive research, provides a single, powerful and consistent message that cuts through the plethora of safety messages at a quarry site and is retained by its target audience.

The communication campaign and associated resources acknowledge that quarry employees are proud of their hard work and fear they will be ridiculed and lose the respect of their colleagues if they gain a reputation for letting them down.

The communication resources include videos and posters of quarry workers encouraging workmates to speak up about hazardous manual tasks.

A copy of the video is at

Metromix Marrangaroo – Clearing out the C9 tail drum roller
The build-up of material in the guard of the C9 tail drum roller. There are a number of risk factors, including:

Posture, eg:
• Leaning over to undo the bolts.
• Twisting when shovelling out materials.
• Bending to scrape materials from the spillage area.
• Crouching to reinstall tail drum guard.

Exertion, eg:
• High exertion to take the weight off the guard when full of material so the guard bolts can be removed.
• High effort in shovelling the material out of the tail drum area.

Repetition, eg:
• This task can occur many times per week due to wet weather factors.

Vibration, eg:
• Transferred vibration is experienced when shovelling material.
Duration, eg:
• This task usually takes 30 minutes to one hour to complete.

The following changes were made:
• The redesign of the tail drum roller guard so material can be cleared without removal of the guard.
• Construction and installation of the guard.

Benefit of initiative
The guard installation has now eliminated the hazardous manual task. Prior to the guard being created there was an 80 per cent exposure rate to the hazardous manual task. With the installation of the newly designed guard the exposure risk for this task has been eliminated. An added advantage is no downtime in production due to tracking issues in the cold, wet environment.

People involved
The quarry manager Shane Burton, quarry supervisor Phil Kable and quarry operators Frank McDonald (all rounder) and Mathew Hewitt (trainee fitter).


A model of the participative ergonomics program was trialled with the Central West sub-branch between February and April this year. The Central West program was unique, as it included representatives from different quarries and companies addressing the common issue of hazardous manual tasks.

Participants did “homework” activities in their workplace. This included talking to workmates about the risks associated with hazardous manual tasks and developing and implementing the program’s communication strategy.

They also completed risk assessments on identified hazardous manual tasks. The increased safety awareness across the entire site and the grassroots nature of the program ensured the workers were driving the changes.

Most of the quarries that took part in the program implemented an initiative to control a hazardous on-site manual task. Some of these controls have reduced exposure to the hazardous manual task and have increased production (in some cases, by more than six to eight hours).

The simple solutions included Westlime’s augur unblocking system, Metromix’s self-clearing tail drum roller and Hanson Molong’s approach to storing and lifting chains.

For more information on these implemented controls and other initiatives, see the boxouts to this article or visit:

Westlime Parkes – Augur unblocking system
The augur became blocked or chocked from small mill balls of lime or increased moisture in the product. Unblocking involved working at heights with an elevated work platform. In addition the operator would be required to use a heavy hose to unblock the augur, or if this was unsuccessful use a needle gun that would require exposure to vibration for long periods of time.

Install a reverse switch on the augur control board. When a blockage occurs, switch the augur in reverse for about five seconds, then change switch and 90 per cent of the time the blockage is clear. If the augur remains blocked, open the air activated door on the bottom of the augur and run in reverse until emptied, then change direction back, shut door and operate. This will clear the blockage.

Benefit of initiative
It has eliminated the manual task and risk from working at heights. Furthermore, there has been a significant cost saving due to less downtime of the augur. The previous method of clearing the augur would take about four to six hours to clear depending on the size of the blockage.

People involved
The idea and process was developed by the site staff and the installation performed by the site electrician.


CELEBRATING SUCCESS {{image5-A:R-w:200}}
On 12 June this year, a gala awards dinner was held to celebrate the outcomes achieved by the Central West participatory ergonomics group. The event was attended by Mine Safety Advisory Council chairman John Hannaford and the NSW CCAA state director Todd Hacking.

Metromix Marrangaroo, Westlime Parkes and Boral Talbragar were chosen as finalists by their peers. The finalists presented their ergonomic initiatives to judges including world renowned ergonomist Barbara McPhee OAM, the Central West area manager and senior inspector of mines John Moss and NSW IQA branch chairman Jim Hankins.

The People’s Choice award was presented to the Boral Talbragar team for its tool to replace worn impactor crusher plates. The Best Ergonomic Initiative 2014 went to Metromix Marrangaroo’s team for its initiative for clearing out a C9 tail drum roller. John Hannaford presented the awards.

The participatory ergonomics program, the awards and dinner were well received and there is great support for holding a
2015 awards event.  However, the best feedback from the night was received from employees’ partners who had gained a great insight into the nature of quarry work.

A wife of one of the workers said: “I hear my husband talk about work and what they are doing, but I had no idea what he was actually talking about until tonight. Thank you for inviting me.” 

Boral Western Quarries, Talbragar – Replacing worn impactor crusher breaker plates
Previously the plate was installed with a sling, and workers had to manually push it into position,  increasing the risk of pinch points with the hands. The team also had to locate the bolt holes with the sling, holding the 200kg plate out of position.

Design a tool to minimise the manual handling required when installing breaker plates. The design of the tool allows for the correct location of breaker plate mounting points, which reduces the exposure of hands to the plate, minimising risk of pinch points. It has also minimised manual handling required by exertion and awkward position.

Benefit of initiative
It has made the job safer as it has reduced the exposure to pinch points, the exertion required to move and hold the plates and the posture required to get inside the crusher to manoeuvre the plate.

People involved
All personnel on-site.

Kylie Newton is the practice leader for health and human factors in the NSW Department of Trade & Investment’s Mine Safety division. Together with Gavin Horobin, of the NSW branch of the CCAA, she is presenting on the participatory ergonomics program at CMIC14 in Brisbane on 5 September, 2014.

Burgess-Limerick R, Straker L, Pollock C, Dennis G, Leveritt S, Johnson S. Implementation of the participative ergonomics for manual tasks (PErforM) program at four Australian underground coal mines. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics 2007.
Burgess-Limerick R. Reducing musculoskeletal risk in open cut mining. ACARP Project C14016, 2004.
NSW Industry & Investment. Managing musculoskeletal disorder. MSAC, 2009.
NSW Trade & Investment. Participative ergonomics train the work teams facilitator guide. Maitland, NSW, 2014.

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