Company fined $130,000 after worker dies in truck fall

Companies must make worker safety their number one priority.
Date: Tuesday, 20 June 2023

A leading Australian building and construction materials company has been fined $130,000 and ordered to pay $4,000 in costs after a worker died when the haul truck he was driving fell around 15 metres in an open pit mine.

Appearing in the Midland Magistrates Court yesterday, Hanson Construction Materials Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to failing to maintain a safe work environment. The company was not charged with causing the worker’s death.

The June 2019 incident occurred at the company’s Red Hill quarry located around 30 kilometres northeast of Perth where it mined aggregate, also known as blue metal.

On the day of the incident, a loaded haul truck was operating on a road carved into the outer wall of the quarry that is known as a bench. One side of the bench road was a sheer vertical drop off.

The edge of the road along the drop off was not straight as it followed the random shape of the quarry pit, and at one point, the road narrowed from a width of around 11 metres to 6.5 metres.

Due to the size and design of the haul truck, the driver’s visibility was restricted to around seven metres to ground level at the front of the vehicle. The driver was an experienced operator who had been working at the quarry for seven months.

At around 6:50 am, a witness heard a loud bang and saw the front right wheel of the haul truck had breached a windrow at the narrowed section of road. The haul truck straddled the windrow, before tilting and falling over the edge.

The company had constructed a windrow along the edge of the bench to deflect vehicles, including haul trucks, away from the 15-metre drop.  A windrow is a pile of rocks constructed to act as a barrier.

The windrow on the bench where the worker was operating the haul truck should have been constructed to a height of at least 50 per cent of the vehicle's wheel diameter. Around 10 metres of the windrow, which included the area where the incident occurred, appeared to be below the 50 per cent height threshold.

Further, the windrow did not have other recommended features such as steep, well-formed sides and a linear inner-toe edge. This meant the shape of the windrow did not deflect the haul truck away from the 15-metre drop.

These standards were specified in the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety Minerals Industry Safety Handbook, the only regulatory guidance for windrows applicable to the quarry.

Reasonable industry practice also included a number of other standards such as conducting risk assessments to determine the appropriate specifications for a windrow.

WorkSafe Chief Inspector Mines, Christina Folley said the workplace fatality was completely preventable.

“This tragic incident is a timely reminder that all companies must make worker safety their number one priority,” Ms Folley said.

“Hanson Construction Materials should have conducted a risk assessment of the haul truck operation on the bench where the incident occurred.

“They should have determined the suitability of the windrow in that area and the significance of the narrowed section of road.

“This would have included constructing the windrow to industry standards, demarcating the windrows in the area with guideposts and reflectors, and applying appropriate signage.

“The company failed to implement these practicable measures in a consistent and adequate way.“

Following the incident, Hanson Construction Materials significantly increased the height of the windrows on the bench and improved the composition.