Risk Assessment can Save Lives

Risk Assessments, are you due for one?

An employer has failed to convince the South Australian IRC that introducing a formal hazard identification and risk assessment process wouldn’t have prevented a worker being crushed to death in plant.

Industrial Magistrate Stephen Lieschke rejected Inco Ships Pty Ltd’s claim that its informal risk assessment and work instructions were “so well known” at the time of the incident that “no extra safety could be achieved”, and found it guilty of breaching the now-repealed State OHSW Act.

In September 2012, an Inco Ships deck mechanic was cleaning a shuttle tail pulley of a conveyor from inside an iron ore out-loading boom on a floating offshore transfer barge when the conveyor retracted into the boom and fatally crushed him.

The employer pleaded not guilty to failing to prevent access to the hazardous parts of the boom by installing a fence or interlocked gate, failing to undertake any adequate hazard identification and risk assessment, failing to provide and maintain a safe work method statement (SWMS), and failing to provide adequate information, instruction, supervision and training.

The employer claimed that a hazard identification and risk assessment process with a documented job safety analysis and SWMS wouldn’t have reduced the risk of injury.

It said the evidence didn’t support a finding beyond a reasonable doubt that performing the cleaning task created a foreseeable risk of injury or death.

Industrial Magistrate Lieschke said the “issue of foreseeability must be assessed on the information that was then known to [the employer] or that was reasonably practicable to ascertain”.

He found the employer knew:

  • of the Australian Standard requiring conveyors to be guarded to prevent access to danger zones;
  • it needed to conduct hazard identification and risk assessments and that no such assessment had been completed for the cleaning task;
  • no informal hazard identification and risk assessment or SWMS had been conveyed to the barge manager, who appointed the cleaning task to the worker, or to the worker;
  • the barge manager believed there was a “safe zone” inside the boom and there was no prohibition against entering the boom during “shuttling”;
  • there was no emergency stop device inside the boom; and
  • there was no procedure for visually checking the boom was clear of personnel before it was returned to service after being isolated, as occurred on the day of the incident.

“I conclude the risk was far more than far-fetched or fanciful,” Industrial Magistrate Lieschke said.

He found that following the incident, the employer installed interlocked gates to prevent access to the interior of the boom without shutting off its power.

“If the interlocked gates were combined with a written hazard identification and risk assessment that warned of the presence of the moving beam, and a written work method statement that set out a mandatory and clear procedure for the task that included a prohibition against anyone remaining inside the boom during shuttling, and these procedures were then the subject of training and supervision, the likelihood of the interlocked gates reducing the risk of injury was high,” he said.

Industrial Magistrate Lieschke also found there was no well-known and clearly understood informal work instruction and hazard awareness within the workplace.

“The best and safest way of doing the job was left up to [the manager] and [the worker] to informally work out; and without the need to check their informal ideas with anyone else who had performed the task, or with the previous [barge] manager, or with [the manager’s] supervisor,” he said.

“To this point [the employer’s] reliance on an informal hazard assessment failed to identify the moving hazard that ultimately killed [the worker], and which I find he was probably unaware of.”

Industrial Magistrate Lieschke said an adequate hazard identification and risk assessment and SWMS for the task were “basic risk control steps” the employer could have taken.