Note: The Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety’s investigation is ongoing. The information contained in this significant incident report is based on materials received, knowledge and understanding at the time of writing.
In October 2017, two field technicians, based in off-site accommodation, were conducting remote reconnaissance mapping on an exploration tenement in the Pilbara. On their first day in the field, after driving over an hour to the tenement, the two technicians parked the vehicle and walked about 16 km in temperatures reaching 36°C.
They returned the next day, parked up, and walked about 18 km in around 7 hours, with the temperature peaking at 37°C. While returning to their vehicle, one of the field technicians collapsed and became unconscious.
His colleague contacted emergency services and provided treatment but, within a short time, the unconscious field technician stopped breathing and could not be resuscitated.
Note: Although this death was reported to the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety as being non-work related, it was treated as a possible work-related fatality and investigated. In January 2018, it was established that it was a work-related fatality, and the cause of death was associated with dehydration and renal failure.
Inadequate hydration and management of heat exposure during field work on both days.
Neither the heat stress management plan or procedures were adequate. The fitness-for-work assessment process did not adequately address the capacity of individual workers to undertake field work. Hydration testing was not conducted prior to undertaking field work. There was no system to train or assess workers supervising or conducting reconnaissance work in remote locations (e.g. extreme temperature conditions). A task-based risk assessment (e.g. job hazard analysis, JHA), was not performed before starting field work.