Bulga drill rig nearly topples over coal mine high wall

IN THE DARK: A drilling rig from the Bulga open-cut mine after it was pulled back from the edge of a 50 metre drop by bulldozers. Changes to night-time drilling have been recommended after an investigation.
IN THE DARK: A drilling rig from the Bulga open-cut mine after it was pulled back from the edge of a 50 metre drop by bulldozers. Changes to night-time drilling have been recommended after an investigation.

 A TRAINEE mineworker at Bulga open-cut has had a narrow escape after his drilling rig nearly toppled over a 50-metre drop and had to be pulled back by bulldozers.

The trainee was working in the dark at night and an official investigation says he had relied on his global positioning system (GPS) to put his drill in the right place.

The near-miss happened on the night of Tuesday, June 26.

The main body looking after safety in the NSW coal industry, the NSW Resources Regulator, says such work should now only be done during daylight hours “as far as reasonably practicable”.

Open-cut mines use temporary dirt walls or “windrows” as safety protection at the side of vertical drops.

The regulator’s report into the incident says the operator had used his GPS to “set up over the hole when the rig travelled over and through the windrow”.

“On straddling the windrow, the machine was no longer able to propel itself forward and came to a halt with the right-hand track suspended over the high-wall,” the report said.

“The operator was able to safely dismount the drill with no physical injuries and called for assistance. Dozers were secured to the rig to drag it clear of the high-wall.” The rig was “suspended 50 metres above ground”.

The regulator said the operator had been in the job for six months as was still in training. The cab design and the dark conditions meant he had “limited visibility”.

“The drill rig operator relied on the GPS unit in the drill rig, which potentially limited his situational awareness,” the regulator said.

“The drilling supervisor was only onsite during daylight hours, with the open-cut examiner performing intermittent inspections of drill patterns during the night shift.”

The regulator says such work should be done in daylight “as far as reasonably practicable”, while drill rigs should never be positioned parallel to a high-wall edge.

It also wants more supervision of “trainee drillers”, and suggests they not do “high-risk drilling work until competency is obtained”.

It says drillers should inspect the area where their drill pattern is set out to identify “high-risk areas and safe paths of travel between holes” and to ensure they know where the rig is in relation to the high-wall.

A spokesperson for Bulga’s owner Glencore said the company was working with the regulator on the investigation.

 “While no-one was injured as a result of the incident, the site was isolated for four days, during which we also brought drilling supervisors and operators from all of our NSW and Queensland open cut operations to the mine site to inspect and discuss the matter,” the spokesperson said.

FURTHER READING

This story Close call for Bulga driller first appeared on Newcastle Herald.