WA advises against rope access systems on open pit slopes

The Western Australian Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) has warned against the use of rope access systems on open pit mine site slopes, unless “absolutely necessary”.

The DMIRS launched an investigation into the dangers of slope work following four separate incidents across Western Australia since 2016 and an unfortunate fatality at a Tasmanian mine in March 2017.

In the investigation, DMIRS identified multiple hazards including wall failure, falling rocks, workers falling from heights, unknown condition of rock mass, failure of rope or other lifting equipment, dropped objects, incorrect equipment usage, rotating parts, manual handling, exposure to heat, dust and noise and delays in emergency response or recovery.

The DMIRS stated that manual scaling with rope access on steep slopes should not be used unless it is absolutely necessary and other alternatives are impracticable.

If manual wall work is essential, mines must consider the design of their site and ensure robust designs are implemented, establish a standardised strategy for working on walls and conduct a risk assessment for all work on or adjacent to pit walls.

DMIRS has recommended several actions to manage risks associated with working on pit walls, including stringent risk assessment and pre-task planning, such as:

  • Conducting a risk assessment for all work on or adjacent to pit walls
  • Conducting a geotechnical assessment of the proposed methodology as part of the risk assessment, including stability, local rock fall hazards (and) relevant modelling techniques
  • Developing detailed work procedures and instructions for proposed remedial work based on the risk assessment
  • Adopting sound principals such as good ground to bad ground, supported to unsupported ground, top down method, avoid positioning workers in the line of fire
  • Implementing a rigorous employee and contractor selection process considering expertise, experience, competence, systems and safety culture
  • Determining and providing an appropriate emergency response plan, involving communication between site emergency personnel and rope technicians.

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