A Rio Tinto subsidiary has been fined $75,000 after a worker was killed when the truck he was driving crashed at a mine in Western Australia.
Hamersley Iron Pty Ltd was fined on Monday after pleaded guilty in the South Hedland Magistrates Court to causing the death of an employee at the company’s iron ore mine in Channar, in the Pilbara region.
On the day of the incident in August 2018, the worker was driving down a ramp that had a gradient mostly between 8 and 10 per cent and about 1.2km long.
During the descent, the fully loaded truck gained excessive speed and was estimated to be travelling at more than 100 km/h, before hitting a windrow at the bottom of the ramp.
The maximum speed for any truck descending a ramp at the mine was only 20 km/h.
While open pit operations usually require trucks to carry loads uphill, trucks at Channar travelled downhill from elevated pits to nearby processing facilities, given the area’s natural features.
The worker had been driving an electric drive truck, with its speed controlled by electric brakes or a hydraulically powered service brake at the time of the incident.
An investigation found he appeared to lose control while going down the ramp and had not activated the service brake to slow and stop the vehicle.
WorkSafe said the risks of trucks gaining excessive speed and getting out of control was well known, given the length and gradient of the ramps at Channar.
While the company had installed devices to detect truck speeds and report noncompliance, those mounted on the ramp concerned had been deactivated in 2016 for unknown reasons.
Acting WorkSafe Chief Inspector Mines Christina Folley said the tragic incident should not have happened.
“Between February 2014 and August 2018, there had been a number of incidents involving excessive speed on ramps at Channar,” she said.
“There had also been excessive speed and braking incidents at other Rio Tinto operations in the area during that period.
“Hamersley Iron needed to have more control over the speed descent hazard at Channar and more effective policies in place to deal with downhill haulage.”
Hamersley Iron and other Rio Tinto mines in the area made a number of changes to improve safety, following the incident, including more signs and demarcation and over-speed alerts delivered to drivers via audible in-cab alarms.