A coroner’s inquest was held late last month, looking into the death of worker Roger Hill, who died from severe injuries after being trapped in a rock crusher. The inquest determined that the tragedy was at least partly caused by missing and ineffective safety mechanisms on the rock crusher.
The accident happened late in the afternoon of January 21, 2008 at a Ridgemount Quarries site in Fort Erie, Ontario owned by Walker Industries in Thorold, Ontario, which had a contract with the now-defunct Hard Rock Group of Companies (the worker’s employer) to set up a portable crushing plant at the site.
According to coroner’s counsel Graeme Leach, at about 4 pm on that day, a massive rotor weighing several tons – with outer bars capable of spinning at 100 miles per hour – stopped working. Hill and two co-workers each took turns trying to get the machine restarted. Unfortunately, the clutch re-engaged while Hill and a supervisor were still in the impactor chamber.
According to Leach, several safety violations contributed to the accident. Lockout and tagout procedures were not followed and the engine in the impactor chamber was left running. Also, while Hard Rock Group safety procedures mandated that a “safety bar” be placed between the bars of the rotor to prevent spinning, the company had “two impactors, but only one bar, so the bar would be shared between the two and the bar was off-site on the day of the incident.”
The crusher was also equipped with a limit switch, which had become inoperable. “If it had been working properly, it should have automatically killed the fuel to the engine. … The evidence in my mind was unclear if it had been broken and just never repaired or had been deliberately tampered with.”
As a result of the inquest, the coroner’s jury issued nine recommendations, including:
- That the Ministry of Labour (MOL), Infrastructure Health and Safety Association and provincial safe work organizations (SWOs) continue to work together to educate workers, supervisors and employers on the “extreme importance” of compliance with ‘lock and tag‘ procedures and maintaining and testing equipment safety features by referencing the potentially tragic consequences of failing to do so;
- That MOL and SWOs review the effectiveness of the Internal Responsibility System and undertake an mandatory audit of surface mining operations to ensure that senior employer representatives conduct routine and regular safety checks on employees at remote workplace locations (with the results reported to SWOs when safety deficiencies are discovered);
- That the MOL and Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities work together to develop a system to track what mandatory OH&S training workers have and alert workers, employers and the MOL “when workers have not completed mandatory training within the required time periods;”
- That the MOL continue conducting regular spot checks of all safety features of dangerous equipment and consider imposing an obligation on employers to periodically certify that safety features have been tested and are in good working order;
- That the MOL investigate the feasibility that where ‘lock and tag’ equipment is deficient or absent, an immediate stop work order be issued.
- That all surface mining workers be required to have core training and, if mandated, specialty training modules prior to workers being permitted to commence work on a surface mine;
- That the number of inspectors for surface mining be increased; and, consider the requirement for a minimum number of workers before an oh&s committee or designation of a safety representative is mandatory.