Quarries health and safety guide

Guidance for employers and employees on how to eliminate or reduce the risk of serious injury and death from working in the quarrying industry.

Introduction

Quarrying may present significant risks to employees, as well as people living or working in the surrounding area.

There are approximately 900 quarries in Victoria, but only about 500 of these quarries operate at any given time. The operating quarries range in size from small family-owned quarries in remote areas to large quarries near metropolitan centres with many employees.

Incidents involving the operation and maintenance of fixed and mobile plant, falls from height, ground failure and explosives may place people's lives at risk.

These incidents can have catastrophic results. This guidance can help you understand the risks of working in the quarrying industry, and how you can make your workplace safer.

Quarrying industry

A quarry is a pit or excavation made in the land below the natural surface to extract stone and other materials.

Victoria's quarries supply a variety of raw materials, including:

  • construction aggregates such as crushed rock, gravels or sands
  • dimension stone used in building and construction
  • limestone used in cement manufacture, road making or agriculture
  • peat that can be used as a soil conditioner or other industrial uses

Risks

The quarrying industry has inherent risks because of the varied nature of the work and the environment in which it is done.

Hazards regularly found in quarries include:

  • unstable ground
  • mobile and fixed plant
  • stored energy, such as compressed gases and fluids
  • explosives
  • electricity
  • noise
  • dust and other respirable substances such as silica
  • vibration
  • UV radiation
  • hot or cold objects and environments
  • dangerous goods
  • hazardous substances

Serious or fatal risks to health and safety in quarries often include:

  • being engulfed or struck by soil and rock as a result of working near or on unstable ground
  • getting struck by moving plant such as excavators, trucks or light vehicles
  • becoming entangled in fixed plant, such as conveyors, crushers and screens
  • falling from height or on the same level
  • lifting, carrying or handling heavy or awkward objects
  • receiving cuts or punctures from sharp objects
  • being burnt or shocked by electricity

Legal duties

Employers

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees, including independent contractors
  • provide employees with the necessary information, instruction, training or supervision to enable them to do their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
  • consult with employees and HSRs, if any, on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them
  • ensure that other people, such as drivers, visitors and the public, are not exposed to risks as a result of your business

Under Victorian OHS laws, employers are also responsible for the health and safety of all employees, including labour hire personnel or contractors, at their workplace. If you are a host employer with labour hire employees, you must treat labour hire employees and other contractors the same as your own employees. Employers must provide and maintain a safe working environment and conditions.

If you store dangerous goods, for example, substances that are flammable, explosive or toxic, you must comply with a range of additional specific legal requirements. See Dangerous Goods Act and Regulations in Further information.

Employers have specific duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 in relation to hazards such as:

  • falls
  • hazardous manual handling
  • noise
  • plant
  • asbestos
  • hazardous substances
  • confined spaces

If an employee has a work-related injury or illness, you have duties under the Workplace Injury Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 2013, one of which is to ensure their safe return to work.

The employer’s return to work duties include:

  • appoint a return to work coordinator
  • develop and implement a return to work plan
  • support and monitor your worker when they return to work

Employees

Your employer is required to protect you from risks in your workplace.

At the same time, you have a general duty to take reasonable care for your own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by your work, and to cooperate with your employer’s efforts to make the workplace safe.

Employees should:

  • follow workplace policies and procedures
  • attend health and safety training
  • help to identify hazards and risks

How to comply

Consultation

Regularly consult with employees to help identify issues in the workplace. Build a strong commitment to health and safety by including all views in the decision-making process.

Employees’ expertise and experience can make a significant contribution to improving workplace health and safety.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, consult with employees when identifying or assessing hazards or risks to health or safety and making decisions about risk controls.

'Employees' includes independent contractors (and any employees of the independent contractor(s), including labour hire) who perform work which the employer has, or should have, control over.

If employees are represented by health and safety representatives, the consultation must involve those representatives.

Identify hazards

There are many potential hazards you need to think about when identifying things that could go wrong.

Consider what risks the following hazards could present:

  • sloping or unstable ground
  • falling rocks
  • mobile plant
  • fixed plant, including conveyors and crushers
  • heavy transport equipment
  • fires
  • airborne dust, which may include silica
  • UV radiation
  • asbestos
  • tailings dams
  • electrical hazards
  • noise
  • dangerous goods, including explosives
  • hazardous substances

Consider different operational situations, including shut-down, emergencies and maintenance, as well as any changes to throughput, materials or equipment, design and staffing levels.

For existing quarry sites, you should take into account hazards that may have been introduced during the exploration, design and development phases of the quarrying operation.

Assess risks

Once all the hazards have been identified, you should assess the risks to health and safety.

This includes considering:

  • the nature of the hazard
  • the likelihood of it causing any harm, and
  • the possible severity of the harm that could be caused

Control risks

The hierarchy of control is a system for controlling risks in the workplace. Work through the following steps to control quarrying risks. In many instances, a combination of approaches may result in the best solution.

1. Eliminate hazards and risks

Eliminating the hazard and the risk it creates is the most effective control measure, so you should always try to do this first.

2. Substitute or isolate the hazard, or use engineering controls.

If you can’t remove the hazard, think about changing the work, separating the hazard from people or using engineering controls. For example, install emergency stop equipment.

3. Use administrative controls.

If there is still a risk, reduce it by changing the way the work is done. For example, develop performance standards for conveyors and the testing of components to ensure reliability of conveyor systems.

4. Provide personal protective equipment (PPE)

If no other measures will totally solve the problem, use PPE to reduce the risk. For example, provide respirators where necessary. Ensure that personnel are trained in the use of PPE and that the respirator is of a suitable type, fitted and maintained properly.

Review risks controls

It's important to review your risk controls regularly to ensure they are implemented correctly and to monitor their effectiveness.

You must review and, if necessary, revise your risk controls whenever any changes are made to the work or the workplace, such as changes to the way work is done or to the tools or equipment used.