Warning after loader operator hit by 23kg rock

Quarry operators have been advised to make sure they use appropriate equipment following the incident, which happened at a quarry near Stradforth, New South Wales, in July.

A 23kg flyrock fell 17m and bounced off a front end loader’s (FEL) bucket arm, which was in the raised position, and through the windscreen into the cab.

The operator was struck in the upper chest and suffered minor lacerations.

The Department of Industry's NSW Resources Regulator carried out an investigation into the incident.

A spokesperson from the Department said the operator was fortunate not to have received worse injuries and the rock was of such a mass that the glass did not lessen the impact by presenting a significant resistance.

A safety alert dated 22 September stated the loading had been taking place at an 18m high bench.

“The area had recently been blasted and material had held up in the face with only a small amount riling away from the face for free loading,” according to the release.

Not fit for purpose

It noted the planned bench height had recently been changed from 9m to 18m.

A risk assessment and a safe work method statement (SWMS) had been completed prior to the incident; however, no formal assessment had been undertaken to identify the appropriate equipment to be used when the bench height was increased.

Although rocks falling from the face had been identified as a hazard, the risk assessment, SWMS and pre-start inspections by the supervisor and operator failed to take into account debris falling onto the loader from height.

The FEL, which had a maximum bucket height of 5m, was “not fit for purpose in this particular situation”, the investigation determined.

The quarry operator was not prosecuted, although the Department issued a prohibition notice under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The Department spokesperson said the incident highlighted how “essential” it is that operators examine the working face area, especially after blasting.

“At all times, operators should select appropriate machinery for each operational task particularly taking into account the face height and reach which may be required,” the spokesperson said.

“The loader was not the correct equipment to be used in this work task.”

The spokesperson added when changes to operating plans are made all elements should be reviewed and work methods and associated equipment changed or modified to suit the new conditions.

Other recommendations by the Department included having both supervisors and workers collaborate to identify and act upon any hazards and inspect the workplace at regular intervals.

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