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October 31, 2009

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HSE creates specialist quarry inspection team

The HSE has formed a dedicated team of specialist inspectors to help

tackle the number of deaths, injuries and cases of ill health in

quarries and open-cast mines across Britain.

The initial team of five inspectors are said to have decades of knowledge and expertise in the sector and will devote their time solely to advising, inspecting and carrying out necessary enforcement action in quarries and open-cast mines. It marks a departure for the inspectors, who previously worked across a range of industries, including manufacturing and agriculture.

Speaking at the launch of the Quarries National Inspection Team on 30 October, HSE director for Scotland, Dr Paul Stollard, said: “This new team’s main aim will be to work with the industry to help make it safer for those working on site, and to bring about a long-term reduction in the number of accidents.”

Principal Inspector of the new team, Colin Mew, stressed that he and his colleagues had all the credentials necessary to achieve this objective. “We all know the quarrying industry,” he explained. “We are experts in the safe use of explosives and in other safety-critical areas, such as tip and slope stability, so it makes sense to concentrate that expertise and resource.

“It will also help protect and preserve the specialist skill-set of our inspectors for the benefit of industry and the safety of its workers well into the future.”

The quarry industry remains one of the most dangerous in Britain, with 21 workers having lost their lives since 2000, and more than 2700 workers having suffered a reportable injury during the same period. However, the industry exceeded its target to reduce reportable incidents by 50 per cent in the five years to 2005 and is currently working to achieve zero reportable incidents through its Target Zero initiative.

Acknowledging the progress made in the sector, while also highlighting some of the major hazards that still exist, PI Mew said: “The industry is making encouraging progress in reducing death and injury, but much remains to be done. Falls from height and accidents involving vehicles are still some of the main causes of injury − many serious, or fatal. Occupational ill health, as a result of exposure to respirable silica, or high levels of noise, can also affect quarry workers.”

The formation of the specialist team received the backing of key industry stakeholders. Martin Isles, director of health and safety at the Mineral Products Association, commented: “The employers and trade unions accept that Target Zero will benefit from this important national initiative. We therefore welcome the formation of the Quarries National Inspection Team and trust that the pooled expertise will quickly become recognised as a valuable focus for development of this concept in the future.”

Echoing Isles’ remarks, Richard Bird of the British Aggregates Association added: “We welcome the positive moves by HSE to ensure that quarry operations are managed properly in the area of health and safety. Not only will this ensure that the workforce and members of the public are protected but it will assist in guiding quarry operators through the increasing maze of health and safety legislation.”

To read an in-depth look at how the quarry sector has addressed health and safety over the last decade, see Nigel Bryson’s article, ‘Rock-steady strategy’.

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