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$130,000 FOR A LIFE

Illawarra Mercury

Tuesday March 29, 2011

By MICHELE TYDD

A COMPANY has been fined $130,000 over an accident in which an employee died after he lost control of a high-powered industrial hose at Port Kembla.Setaleki Kolomaka of Woonona was killed nearly three years ago when hit by the hose's jet water stream which was strong enough to cut through concrete.He was working with a team of men cleaning the sludge and sediment in a settlement tank at the BlueScope plant when the accident happened.His employer, Allied Industrial Services, pleaded guilty in the Industrial Court of New South Wales to a breach of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.The court last month found it failed to ensure the health and safety of employee Mr Kolomaka during the operation on May 22, 2008.Mr Kolomaka, 39, had been operating the hose, fitted with a steel lance to intensify the stream, while another worker operated the foot-control valve which controlled the flow of water.Guidelines recommend the person who is using the hose should be responsible for the water flow but it was decided to give that duty to somebody else due to the uneven ground at the site.It was also decided, after striking difficulties in removing the caked sludge, to change the lance to increase the pressure.At 10.45am that day Mr Kolomaka lost control of the lance."The worker who was operating the foot-control valve saw the lance fly backwards towards them but by that time a stream of high-pressure water had already struck Mr Kolomaka in the chest," the judgment read.Efforts to revive Mr Kolomaka were unsuccessful.The court heard he was wearing personal protective equipment but it did not include a special suit recommended by the equipment manufacturer.Justice Tricia Kavanagh noted the difficulties identified in the cleaning task, but said there were a number of "alternative systems" which could have been selected."The incident occurred because the system chosen was varied [referring to the choice of a new lance] and the variation was not risk assessed on site," she said."The system was also varied when the crew split the control of the foot release from the hose operator."The court heard Mr Kolomaka, a father of three, had worked with the company for seven years.The maximum fine was $550,000 but Justice Kavanagh took into account the company had no record and that it took steps to demonstrate its remorse by helping the victim's family financially.After the accident, the Australian Workers Union put a ban on high-pressure hoses at Port Kembla until it was satisfied that safety standards and equipment had been improved.It was lifted six months later and improvements have been adopted nation-wide."Unfortunately somebody had to die to trigger this review," union Port Kembla branch secretary Andy Gillespie said yesterday."It's left children without a father and a wife without a husband after what we believe was a preventable accident."He conceded the company had acted responsibly towards the family. The union, with the company and employees, set up a foundation to raise money for the family and for safety initiatives.

© 2011 Illawarra Mercury

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