Always use the right machinery for the job
By Julia Johnston, Health and Safety Manager, Wilson Contractors (2003) Ltd.
On May 4, 2018, Wilson Contractors (2003) Ltd was widening the road and upgrading edge protection methods along State Highway 6 in an area known as the Devils staircase. An operator was injured while using a 7.5-tonne roller on the road shoulder near the edge of a steep drop-off.
This size and type of machine was not appropriate for use on this particular shoulder. Due to the larger drum size, the operator was forced too close to the edge of the drop-off, which inadvertently caused the machine to fall down the bank.
The machine rolled a number of times before coming to rest on a ledge further down the bank where the operator freed himself from the roller.
The operator suffered multiple leg fractures and a collapsed lung. He was hospitalised immediately and has since required multiple surgeries and was off work for many months while rehabilitating. He has now made a good recovery. Thankfully, the operator was wearing his seatbelt which saved him from potentially life-threatening injuries.
The task had been identified as a hazard in the health and safety plan and a 3-tonne roller was listed as the correct machine for the job.
However, due to mechanical issues the 3-tonne roller was not available so a 7.5-tonne roller was used instead. The hazards associated with using a larger machine were not reassessed prior to the operator undertaking the task.
Worksafe undertook an investigation after the incident was reported. Worksafe found that Wilson Contractors (2003) Ltd had breached the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 by:
- Not formally identifying the steep slope where the incident occurred and implementing appropriate control measures. Steep slopes were identified in general in the health and safety plan however this was not enough to manage the risk of fall;
- Using a 7.5-tonne roller instead of a 3-tonne roller. The health and safety plan specifically listed a 3-tonne roller would be used on the day the incident occurred. The risks associated with using a larger machine for edge compaction were not formally addressed when the machine arrived onsite.
- Not using a plate compactor for the task instead of a roller. Plate compactors were listed in the health and safety plan for use in compaction works but were not used on the day of the incident despite prior use in other narrow areas;
- Using a machine on a public road without holding the correct licence and endorsement. To operate a roller under 18,00kg on a public road a full class one drivers’ licence and an R endorsement are required by the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency; and
- Not using an adequately trained and experienced roller operator to carry out the compaction work next to a steep drop-off.
Wilson Contractors (2003) Ltd was fined $275,000, ordered to pay reparations of $50,000 as well as $18,092 for consequential loss under section 36(1)(a), 48(1) and (2)(c) of the Health and Safety at work Act 2015.
Wilson Contractors (2003) Ltd responded to the incident immediately by investing significantly in the health and safety standards of the company to ensure an incident like this does not occur again, and to enable a long-term cultural shift within all areas of the business.
Areas of improvement include the following:
- A Health and Safety Manager role was established – this role oversees all of Wilsons health and safety aspects from operational support to developing and implementing new safe systems of work.
- A Competency Assessor role created to ensure all new employees are assessed prior to operating plant and existing employees are assessed on an ongoing basis. In conjunction with this a strict new induction policy was implemented to ensure no person operates a machine without first having the required licence, endorsement and a competency assessment completed.
- A mentoring system with a formal documented process to progress the development of the engineers and their safety experience and responsibilities.
- Implementation of an online management system to have better oversight on incidents occurring to identify trends and determine lead indicators for future safety improvement.
- A Human Resources Manager was employed to allow better pre-employment, ongoing and post incident monitoring of employees to identify areas of concern. The role also includes welfare monitoring and training to better identify and support employees at risk.
- Regular health and safety meetings from management level to operations with an active health and safety committee. This has helped ensure all staff have a means to communicate with management on health and safety matters.
- Further educating staff on the hazard management process to ensure more robust hazard and risk identification is continually undertaken at operational levels.
- Implemented compulsory safe systems of work, such as permits for high-risk activities. Daily tailgate meetings, site inductions and monthly KSA/JSA reviews are now mandatory for all projects.
At Wilson Contractors (2003) Ltd an incident of this seriousness is of great concern to us and we deeply regret that one of our workers was injured so severely.
We recognise that by not adhering to our own safe systems of work we did not meet our commitment to ensure all of our staff go home safe and well each day. While the person involved has made a good recovery, they will continue to feel the effects of the incident for life. And the impacts of the incident continue to be felt by staff and management at Wilsons.
Prior to the incident we had a health and safety system in place, however we did not self-audit (review) our onsite safety effectively enough, adhere to our training processes, or enforce the use of these as well as we should have.
Our company culture at the time of the incident tended to see safety as being optional or as a task that was ‘ticked off’ at the start of a project.
We have worked very hard since then to turn our culture around, to see health and safety as something that is a part of everything we do, it requires continuous review and multiple hold points.
Most importantly it requires overall commitment from all levels of our business to be effective and we continue to promote this to our people.