AMEC Services Pty Ltd fined $40,000

The company was fined after an incident where one of its employees was injured while working at Alcoa’s Kwinana Alumina Refinery.
Date: Thursday, 25 October 2018

AMEC Services Pty Ltd (AMEC) has been fined $40,000 in the Rockingham Magistrates Court after an incident where one of the company's employees was injured while working at Alcoa’s Kwinana Alumina Refinery.

AMEC was contracted by Alcoa to provide secondary on-site mechanical services including maintenance works.

On 13 November 2015 the employee, who worked as a boilermaker, was removing a vortex breaker from inside the bottom cone of one of the refinery’s thickening tanks. He was working underneath the vortex breaker during the removal work.

The vortex breaker was attached to the cone section of the thickening tank by four welded pipe sections, which needed to be cut before it could be removed.

The employee believed that the vortex breaker was further supported by a structure above. This was not the case. The only structural support holding the vortex breaker in place were the four welded pipe sections which had been partially cut by the employee.

Whilst the employee's body was partially inside the thickener, he hit one of the pipe sections with a hammer to remove it from the vortex breaker; this dislodged the pipe section and the 300kg vortex breaker came down and pinned the employee’s head against the tank.

It took emergency workers from the Department of Fire and Emergency Services approximately two hours to free the employee, who suffered caustic burns to the face, limbs and back as a result of caustic residue that escaped from the pipe sections when they were cut.

An investigation by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) found a number of issues with the company's risk assessment processes.

Mines Safety Director Andrew Chaplyn said this included not identifying the hazard of the caustic residue, being struck by heavy plant or becoming trapped by the vortex breaker should it detach from the thickener.

"There were a number of oversights that contributed to this incident occurring," Mr Chaplyn said.

"This included the lack of planning prior to the task and the failure to ensure a supervisor checked the Job Hazard Analysis prior to the work commencing.

"Additionally there was no planning for working in a confined space and possible emergency response plan should the worker get trapped."

Mr Chaplyn said the decision to use rope to lower out the pieces of four welded pipe sections also should not have occurred.

"None of the company’s workers involved in the job held rigging or dogging qualifications," he said.

"These missteps and oversights led to a potentially deadly situation that resulted in significant injuries to a worker.

"It is another reminder of why safety should always be the number one priority in the mining industry. This means ensuring safety processes and procedures are not only in place, but are understood and followed."  

In handing down the penalty, the court took into account the company's early guilty plea.