Queensland quarry manager jailed over workplace death

A quarry manager has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after a worker was crushed to death at a central Queensland quarry in 2012.

Sean Scovell was fatally injured after he became entangled in a conveyor belt at the Moranbah South Quarry in June 2012.

The man was operating a crushing plant on June 7, 2012, when the incident happened. The man left the control room for the operation of the plant, to check on the conveyor after reportedly hearing a screeching noise coming from the conveyor. As he stood near the unguarded conveyor, Scovell was reportedly caught and pulled into the conveyor between the gantry structure and the roller. The 21-year-old suffered fatal injuries.

The quarry manager, his company, which is now insolvent, and a senior employee were charged with multiple safety breaches following the fatal incident.

The company was found guilty of breaching health and safety obligations under the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act and ordered to pay a fine of $ 400,000, while a senior company employee was fined $ 35,000, but no conviction was recorded.

The manager was ordered to serve six months of his sentence behind bars, with parole after six months. He was immediately granted bail pending an appeal against his sentence.

Brisbane Magistrates Court was told that the deceased was working alone under a conveyor that was not fitted with a safety guard when the incident occurred.

Magistrate Penelope Hay said that although Mr. Scovell’s actions before his death “remain unknown”, he may have reached into the moving conveyor belt to remove mud, according to ABC News.

In 2017, the company that manufactured the conveyor belt was convicted of failing to discharge their health and safety obligations for failing to install guard panels to cover dangerous sections.

The deceased’s father, Brett Scovell, said outside court that the death of his son was something no parent should have to endure.

“It is a life sentence of misery and constant torment … there is no escape from grief,” he said.

“Now the court case is finalised, they say it will give us closure.

“What it does to me is further remove Sean from society — instead of Sean being a person in the minds of the public, bringing awareness to health and safety issues.”

Plant is a major cause of death and injury in Australian workplaces.

Statistics from WorkCover Queensland show since 2013, on average each year, 386 workers’ compensation claims are accepted that relate to workers being trapped by moving machinery or equipment. Nearly half of these claims involve serious injuries requiring five or more days off work.

During the same period, 231 incidents where people were injured or were at risk of serious injury by a conveyor-type device were reported to WorkCover, with sixty-five per cent of these incidents resulting in a hospital stay. Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued 234 statutory notices relating to the risk management of such incidents.

When moving parts are exposed, conveyors (including belt and auger/screw type conveyors) pose a significant risk to workers. According to WHSQ, hazards likely to cause injury include:

  • rotating shafts, pulleys, gearing, cables, sprockets, chains, clutches, or fan blades
  • the run-on points of belts, chains or cables
  • crushing or shearing points e.g. augers and slide blocks, roller feeds, conveyor feeds
  • machine components that move, cut, grind, pulp, crush, break or pulverise materials.

Before accessing conveyors for maintenance, or cleaning rigorous isolation, lockout and tag-out process needs to be carried out. An isolation and lock-out process includes:

  • isolating the conveyor from all energy sources that can cause harm
  • locking all the isolating units in the isolated position
  • dissipating or restraining any stored energy that may give rise to a hazard.

If any type of guarding is removed for maintenance or cleaning:

  • ensure the guarding is replaced before the machine is put back into operation and,
  • the plant should not be able to restart unless the guarding is in place.

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