Inquest into death at BHP’s Perseverance mine

The Perth Coroner’s Court has heard risk assessment processes at WA mines need to be overhauled after a man fell 25 metres to his death in an underground mine shaft.

Wayne Lance Ross, 45, was driving an underground loader in April 2010 at BHP Billiton’s Perseverance mine near Leinster when the accident occurred.

A coronial inquest is being held in Perth to determine how the loader fell and how to improve safety as 35 West Australian mines still use manned loaders in underground operations.

On Monday the inquest was told Ross was an experienced and competent loader operator, ABC reported.

The court was told Ross assessed his activity on the day of his death as low-risk.

According to the shift plan Ross was not scheduled to carry out work near the shaft and went to the site after being verbally direct to do so by a supervisor.

No one witnessed Ross fall down and he was later found by another worker.

Due to safety concerns, Ross could not be recovered for a further 18 hours, but the court was told forensic tests showed he died within minutes.

Department of Mines and Petroleum inspector Andrew Harris said dust from a ventilation system may have reduced visibility as there were no signs Ross tried to brake or of the loader "locking up".

While a mechanical assessment found there was no deficiency with the loader, the report showed the operator’s seat was not mounted correctly.

Harris said risk assessment processes in underground operations need to be reassessed so operations are not relying on the judgement of one person.

"There has to be very rigorous procedures if there is going to be equipment working in and around voids," he said.

Harris made four recommendations to improve safety when using underground loaders, including better signage and access controls, formal team-based risk assessments, and the use of unmanned vehicles near the edge of underground shafts.

The inquest continues this week.

Perseverance mine was closed down late last year amid ongoing safety concerns.

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