South32 incident reveals communication gaps

South32's Illawarra metallurgical coal operation. Image: South32

The NSW Resources Regulator has laid out its recommendations for winder rope removals following a dangerous incident at South32’s Appin East coal mine in New South Wales.

The incident involved the removal of a winder rope from the drift winder at Appin East in October last year.

South32 had hired Winder Controls Australia for a drift winder upgrade project, who used its own rope removing method.

During the removal, the head sheave pulley wheel, which weighs several tonnes, was dislodged and fell 13 metres to the ground.

A contract worker in a taped off, restricted area had to move to avoid being struck by the falling pulley wheel and avoid any injuries.

The regulator indicated that the friction winder’s maximum rope pull force was set above the safe working load limit of the head sheave pulley, while there was too much force applied to the pulley wheel.

Initial inquiries also found that communication protocols had not been considered for the work environment. Restricted access areas weren’t clearly defined, while the worker was under the assumption he had been given approval to be in the area.

To prevent similar hazards, the regulator has encouraged mine operators to develop and implement management procedures related to risks relating to changes to work processes; monitor and review contractor procedures; and review drift winder rope removal procedures.

Contractors are also encouraged to understand appropriate drift winder removal procedures and risk assessments and provide adequate instruction to workers.

The regulator will publish a full report when its investigation is complete.