Precarious positioning contributed to operator death

Investigations into the September death of a 25 year old excavator operator have shown the man was working on a precarious edge when the machine rolled over.

A new report by the mine safety inspection unit has described the general situation leading to the death of Ryan Messenger on September 9 this year while working at the Karuah Quarry north of Newcastle.

Newcastle Herald reported quarry operator Hunter Quarries failed in their court attempt to stop investigators from interviewing staff at the quarry.

The report said Messenger was using the excavator on uneven ground with a cross gradient.

“The excavator rolled onto its left-hand side, down slope, resulting in fatal injuries to the operator,” the report said.

It was also found the excavator bucket had been holding a rock weighing 3 tonnes.

“Investigators are examining what factors caused the machine to exceed its tipping point,” as well as “the purpose of the task being undertaken,” the report said.

The report also said excavators often operate on uneven ground near the edge of quarry pits and “the risk of roll over and tip over … is high, unless precautions are taken”.

The recovery operation for Messenger’s body was delayed by the instability of the accident site.

Fears the accident site was unstable coupled with a fire safety risk due to the excavator leaking fuel led emergency crews to call in two cranes to assist.

Hunter Quarries said it was shocked by the accident.

“The Hunter Quarries family is devastated by the death as there is nothing more important than the safety, care and welfare of our employees,” the company said in a statement.

“Hunter Quarries would like to extend their deepest sympathies to the employee’s family, friends and co-workers.”

Newcastle Trades Hall Council said the safety record at the site was unacceptable.

Hunter quarries was fined $200,000 in 2009 for the death of a truck driver Darren Smith in 2005, and in 2010 was fined for exceeding the 500,000 tonne production limit by 285,000 tonnes.

Messenger's mother Jane Russell said she did not blame the company for her son's death, and that the company had been compassionate and supportive of her family.

Image: Newcastle Herald

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