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September 22, 2008

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Quarry firm fined GBP 75,000 over crush death

A Cornish quarry worker was crushed to death after becoming entangled in the inadequate guard of a crushing machine.

Truro Crown Court heard on 4 September that maintenance man Robert Bickley, 42, had been employed at Carnsew Quarry in Mabe by Aram Resources.

On 8 July 2004, he had been working near a primary crusher — a large, powerful machine with big metal jaws that smashes up rocks taken from the quarry face.

Simon Edwards, the HSE inspector who investigated the case, told SHP the primary crusher had once been diesel-powered, but its power source had been converted to electricity some time before the incident. However, a diesel tank was still on the site, on a platform adjacent to the crusher.

Mr Bickley had been welding a bunded store to hold old liquids such as diesel, and he was spotted driving a forklift truck towards the crusher with an oil drum on a pallet on the forks.

Although there were no witnesses to what followed, the crusher operator next saw Mr Bickley lying on the floor beside the machine. He had received serious head injuries and died at the scene.

The subsequent investigation found that the 5cm2 fixed-mesh guard covering the rotating flywheel, which transmits power from the motor to the jaw of the crusher at 305rpm, had been ripped off its mountings. The guard and flywheel were adjacent to the diesel tank, which had been draining into an oil drum, and was spilling over the floor.

“We think Mr Bickley had gone to empty some diesel into the drum,” inspector Edwards explained. “He had been standing between the tank and the guard on the flywheel in order to open the valve on the tank. He must have leaned on the guard, which he should have been able to do without it deflecting with his weight. He then became entangled with the guard.”

The inspector said some of the bolts that held the guard in place were missing, while others were only finger-tight.

“The guarding on the machine was not of the correct construction for what it was trying to do, and it was not strong enough. The people who checked the guards were not competent and had not been trained in the proper standard of guarding,” he remarked.

Aram said in mitigation it had a good safety record, and had since reassessed all its guards and trained its staff in guarding standards. It now has an improved checking system for the guards, and a much more substantial guard had been fixed on the flywheel. “The company has now done all the things it should have done before,” inspector Edwards commented.

Judge Paul Darlow said Mr Bickley was entitled to assume that the guard would do its job. “The guard fell a long way below the required standards of safety,” he said.

Inspector Edwards added: “Quarries are particularly dangerous places. Although much has been done to improve health and safety standards in the quarry industry, there is no room for complacency — a quarry worker is more than twice as likely to be killed at work as a construction worker, and 13 times as likely as someone working in manufacturing.”

Aram Resources, of Penryn, pleaded guilty to breaching reg.11(1) of PUWER 1998 by failing to prevent access to the dangerous parts of the crusher — fine £40,000; and reg.9 of the Quarries Regulations 1999, by failing to ensure that those responsible for the guarding were competent — fine £35,000. It was also ordered to pay £30,000 towards the HSE’s costs.

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