Workers’ narrow escape

CALLS for overarching safety legislation to be applied across the local power industry have been renewed, after it emerged two workers were nearly killed at the Yallourn open cut coal mine in June.

The incident, in which two Silcar contractors narrowly avoided collision with a falling section of coal conveyor trestle, occurred during the demolition of crippled mine infrastructure, damaged when the Morwell River breached its banks on 6 June.

According to a number of statements and testimonies from mine stakeholders and sources, the two workers were “hot-axing” structural bolts connecting the conveyor to a supporting trestle from an elevated work platform (EWP) six metres off the ground.

However when a suspended section of conveyor unexpectedly collapsed, the trestle moved towards the EWP, missing the workers by a metre, despite an assessment by engineers the conveyor structure would collapse in the opposite direction.

Silcar, the company contracted to demolish the partially collapsed M106 conveyor, has not commented on the incident, despite numerous requests from The Express.

A spokesperson for Yallourn power station and mine operator EnergyAustralia said the incident was classed as a “serious near miss” and was reported to WorkSafe.

“The on-site contractor (Silcar) had involved expert engineers and safety representatives during the extensive planning work conducted in the lead up to the demolition… unfortunately, when the conveyor was cut it didn’t drop as expected despite extensive pre-planning,” the spokesperson said.

“It’s important we share any learnings from these types of incidents with the wider industry to make sure we can continue to protect workers into the future.”

While The Express became aware of the incident shortly after it occurred, information has been scarce, with a number of union stakeholders only becoming aware of the event in the past fortnight.

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Steve Dodd said it “was like pulling teeth out of a hen” to obtain information about the incident.

“They’ve kept a tight lid on this one,” Mr Dodd said, adding the AMWU had faced “frustrating difficulties” attempting to inspect the Yallourn mine during the extensive demolition and clean up effort in the months following the Morwell River collapse.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable for this type of (incident) to go on… and to find out months and months later about this is pretty ordinary,” Mr Dodd said.

According to a WorkSafe spokesperson, an inspector attended the conveyor demolition scene two days after the incident.

The inspection is believed to have flagged a failure to identify the affects of releasing stored energy, and a failure to follow established hazard identification and risk assessment practices.

“Silcar management agreed to have its further demolition plans reviewed and revised by a demolition expert, which in turn were provided to WorkSafe… further demolition was completed without incident,” the spokesperson said.

A partial site inspection carried out by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union in late June, in response to concerned calls from Silcar workers within the mine, found the overall response effort was being run as safely “as could be expected”.

News of the incident has lead the AMWU and the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council to refresh their previously made calls for the State Government to introduce overarching safety legislation to the power industry, which they said would create a more transparent and organised approach to major hazardous situations.

GTLC secretary John Parker said while power stations were subject to Occupational Health and Safety legislation and the Mine’s Act, each power station had its own set of guidelines and operated independently of each other.

“This type of legislation, which exists in the oil and gas industry, would create uniform requirements and procedures for the whole power industry, not just protocols which are patched to suit each company involved,” Mr Parker said.

The calls for new legislation were initially made after the death of a 23 year-old Loy Yang worker, killed by a collapsing door in 2006 during a maintenance program, and the death of a Silcar worker in the Yallourn mine only weeks earlier, crushed by a falling beam when working on a coal conveyor.

However the EnergyAustralia spokesperson said current legislation was satisfactory, adding any changes to legislation were a matter for the State Government.

Calls to Energy and Resources Minister Michael O’Brien were not returned.