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Passing on safety lessons – in the pit and on the water


Editor Damian Christie discusses the unlikely safety parallels in sailing and the quarrying industry. As on the high seas, operators across the sector should take extra care in keeping their sites safe and should pass on the lessons they learn to their peers across the industry. 

In my spare time, I’m a sailing enthusiast – with a passion for the America’s Cup, the bluewater trophy Australia famously won. Indeed, as this issue hits desks, the 36th match in the regatta’s 170-year-old history is on in earnest in Auckland, New Zealand.1

While Australia hasn’t had a challenger for two decades, our sailors, designers and engineers remain influential. One of those, Jimmy Spithill, who grew up in Pittwater, Sydney, has helmed for a number of international teams and is a two-time Cup winner. In 2021, he is sailing for the Italian Luna Rossa challenge.

The modern America’s Cup boats are a far cry from the wing keeled Australia II – foiling yachts that skim above the water at up to 50 knots (more than 90km per hour). Although fast, they are challenging to sail – and potentially dangerous. Indeed, the US challenger American Magic capsized and was severely damaged in a race on 17 January. Fortunately, none of the 11 crew members were injured – and they had trained for the possibility. America’s Cup sailors wear crash helmets, carry knives and have access to harnesses and oxygen tanks, should the boat crash into the water.

Quarry Magazine Editor Damian Christie

While Spithill in his autobiography describes the high level of risk in the America’s Cup as akin to modern mountaineering – “the participants accept the risk as being part of the adventure” – he discusses safety extensively, including the capsize of Oracle Team USA’s 22m catamaran in training in 2012. The sailors were accounted for and unhurt but the boat was severely damaged.

While quarrying is not as cavalier in its approach to safety, the lessons Spithill took from the incident are applicable. The capsize did not deter the sailors and shore crew who rallied to salvage and repair the boat, and get their sailing program back on track. Spithill marveled at the honesty of people about the incident and what they could do to avoid it again.

It was then to Spithill’s dismay that in 2013 the Swedish challenger Artemis capsized in similar fashion, but with a tragic consequence – one of its crew drowned. The upshot of this disaster was that America’s Cup teams would, going forward, “openly share engineering knowledge so that we could create a safer environment for the sailors and learn as a group”. Sadly, owing to the competitiveness that characterises the Cup, Oracle had not passed on its learnings to the other teams nine months earlier.

This is good reason why the quarrying industry should be collaborative when learning from incidents and mistakes. Fatal and serious incidents can and do occur. It took several fatalities in Queensland in 2018-19 for the extractive industries there to stop work and evaluate their systems and procedures – and for workers and employers to be upfront and honest with each other. Hopefully, data about incidents collected by Australian work safety authorities can also educate the industry of the high risks and the benefits of improved safety.

Quarries and their members should also take advantage of the IQA’s education programs which explore topics such as incident investigation, effective risk management, and disaster learning. Just as sailors have gained from openly sharing knowledge to create a safer on the water experience, so quarries should collaborate more and share ideas and lessons that can not only make the industry safer but stronger as a whole. Collegiality is always preferable to outright competition.


  1. The 36th America’s Cup match was run from 10 to 17 March inclusive. The Team New Zealand defender Te Rehutai defeated Italian challenger Luna Rossa 7-3 in a best-of-13 race series.


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