Another near-miss from my time as a young man in the gold mines and before I was properly attuned to safety and still relying on my good fortune.
I had been working on an air loader breakdown in a development end face when I was required to leave the work site for a centralised blast to take place. When I came to the surface my foreman asked me to return later that evening to finish the repairs to the loader.
A few hours later my crew and I were back at the machine, completing the job quickly we headed back to the shaft to take a cage back to surface. On arrival at the station I met an onsetter who was busy sending out empty timber cars and receiving full cars.
"Travelling in a cage with empty timber cars was illegal and potentially dangerous"
Now I need to first explain that it was not legal to travel in a cage which was carrying anything other than people, but the law was regularly ignored, especially if we wanted to get out of the mine quickly and knew the wait for a cage would be lengthy.
While I was waiting, a timber car was pushed onto the station which contained a large electric motor which appeared to be going to surface for repairs, the onsetter invited me to jump onto the same car and go up to surface with the motor. I was a little unsure about how wise that was so I declined and told him I will ride with the next empty timber car to which he shrugged and commented that it was my choice.
So the cage arrived at the station and the door was opened and the onsetter's crew pushed the timber car, complete with the motor, into the cage. As the first wheels went into the cage, the weight caused the cage to drop by about a foot and they could not get the back end of the timber car into the cage. The onsetter gave a bell signal of 4 - 1 which means “Up Slow” this was to enable the cage to come back up the 12 inches to the station level however, the hoist driver misheard the signal and thought it was a single ring, which was a signal which was simply “Up” and implied that the load was secured and, as the driver had received a corresponding confirmation signal from the banksman, the cage was free to move at normal speed.
"The timber car and the motor fell 250 feet to the bottom of the shaft"
As the cage started to rise at normal speed and pass the station level, the timber car was partially forced out of the cage and then rocked forward and, assisted by the rolling movement of the large motor, the timber car and the motor fell 250 feet to the bottom of the shaft.
The ice cold feeling one gets when an event of such gravity (pardon the pun) happens in front of you and you quickly realise that you could have been plummeting to the shaft sump at that very moment, it is very sobering to say the least.
It took many hours to get out of the mine that night as the shaft was closed until an inspection could take place and repairs made to the shaft bracings but the feeling of good fortune made up for the long hours I were left sitting on the concrete floor waiting to get out.
"Don't let Safety rely on good fortune"
Safety should never rely on good fortune, safety needs to be applied through a well thought out Safety Management System with committed staff following the laws and never ignoring procedures except in the most extreme and urgent of emergencies.
At SafetyLogz we can help you establish practical Safety Systems in line with our "Safety Redefined" tagline.