Driver death case against Resource Pacific rejected

Coal mine operator not guilty of OHS charges on truck cab crushing

Driver death case against Resource Pacific rejected
Supreme Court of New South Wales found the charges unproven


The Supreme Court of New South Wales has found coal mine operator Resource Pacific not guilty in an occupational health and safety (OH&S) case over the crushing death of a truck driver.

The driver, who was working for a contractor, was killed at the he Ravensworth Underground Mine, near Singleton, in 2009 when nearly 10 tonnes of reject material was released from a hopper bin on to his cab rather than into the back of his Kenworth T401 and trailer.

In one of the longest such cases – over 50 days and involving 216 exhibits and with a judgement running to 879 paragraphs plus appendixes – Justice Michael Walton found the prosecution could not be sustained.

The accident hinged on the operation of a programmable logic controller (PLC) and its photoelectric sensor cells (PE Cells) that were part of an electronic control system that drivers could use to operate the bin and its shute. The mechanism was meant to prevent the release of material unless a driver was in a safe position to receive a load into the truck and dog. 

But the case was prosecuted primarily on failure to ensure the software of the shute safety system was working properly along with the absence of falling object protection structures (FOPS) on the sort of road trucks the mine operator chose to shift the material.

After the incident, an examination of the bin and the relevant field equipment, no specific defects or failures were found in any of the field equipment that impacted, relevantly, on the functioning of the electronic PLC system and the operation of the loading gates at the bin’s base.

However, after 100 hours of examination, a consultant engineer and expert witness discovered an error in the PLC’s software code that had been amended to accommodate the gap between the truck and the dog.

This was done by a specialist firm without other parties knowing.

There was evidence that some parties, including the specialist firm, believed a mining dump truck, which has added cab safety features would be used to take waste from the bin, though the reason for that belief was unclear.

No evidence was found of problems with the truck involved and the driver had been considered careful and safety conscious by fellow drivers. But the judge found the driver’s approach to the shute – in driving past and then reversing into position inadvertently exposed him to an extremely small but ultimately fatal risk.

This action caused tripping of sensors now less able to halt an erroneous opening of the shute after the driver had mistakenly shifted the truck and dog past where it should have been, thus exposing the cab.

The judge did not accept that the mine operator "failed to take a step or steps which was or were necessary to ensure safety" or that the prosecution had identified the measure or measures that should be taken if a risk was or is present.

The latter point shows the long reach of the Kirk case on what is reasonable for a prosecuted party to be aware of and do and the protections they have for a fair prosecution.

It was also pointed out that at the time there was no Australian standard for road truck FOPS and that any such addition would have been ineffective given the weight of the material.

The full findings can be found here.


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