Mines and quarries are hazardous areas - from the workplace transport perspective, from the nature of machinery and equipment present within quarries and from the risks within abandoned quarries.

Introduction

There are approximately 160 quarries and sand pits which employ about 3,800 people in Northern Ireland. In 2009 the industry produced approximately 21 million tonnes of aggregates.

The quarry network supports the building of new homes, schools, colleges and hospitals as well as providing materials for the construction and maintenance of the road and rail network.

The standard of health and safety in the quarrying industry has improved significantly since the introduction of the Hard Targets Initiative by the industry, but continued vigilance, by everyone in the industry, is essential to maintain the improvements.

Workplace transport

A wide range of large complex vehicles are used every day in quarries. Proper planning, training and awareness, and the use of appropriate vehicles can avoid most accidents.

Some dos and don’ts:

Do

  • keep people and vehicles apart
  • provide all round visibility for operators of vehicles
  • maintain vehicles properly
  • secure loads properly
  • avoid the need to work at height on vehicles where possible
  • display clear site rules and enforce them

Don’t

  • Operate vehicles unless you are trained and authorised to do so

Machinery & equipment

 
Employers are required to ensure that work equipment is:

  • suitable for the intended use
  • safe for use and maintained in a safe condition
  • used only by people who have received adequate information, instruction and training
  • fitted with the correct guards, suitable access walkways/platforms, visibility aids - for example, mirrors and CCTV

Stay out! Stay safe!

Quarries, particularly abandoned and disused quarries are very dangerous and there have been a number of deaths in Northern Ireland in recent years.

The Health and Safety Executive NI has health and safety responsibility for operational quarries. Upon closure of a quarry, responsibility passes to the district councils who have a duty under the statutory nuisance regime.

The Quarries (Northern Ireland) Order 1983 (as amended by Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2011) states that a quarry (worked or unworked) shall be deemed to be a statutory nuisance if it is:

  • (a) not provided with an effective and properly maintained barrier so designed and constructed so as to prevent any person from accidently falling into the quarry
  • (b) by reason of its accessibility from a highway or place of public resort, it constitutes a danger to members of the public

Thus, where a quarry is sufficiently accessible from a place of public resort (such as a road or public path) to constitute a danger to members of the public, the district council can serve a notice on the owner requiring, for example fencing to be improved.

The risks

Disused quarries are on private land and individuals should not trespass across such land in order to gain access to a quarry lake.  Whilst, the water may look inviting, particularly on a hot day, there are a number of hidden dangers:

  1. Water in quarries does not flow or circulate.  Thus, the water just below the surface is never heated by the sun and is often close to freezing, even in the summer. Quarry water is much colder than rivers and lakes and the sea.  The cold water in quarries can, in addition to causing hypothermia, cause the muscles to cramp and result in drowning, even in very strong swimmers.
  2. Due to the chemical composition of some of the rocks that are quarried, the water that collects in quarries can be very alkaline. There have been instances that quarry water has been recorded as having a pH of 11.3. This is very close to that of bleach which has a pH of 12.3.
  3. Quarry water can contain dead animals which are not visible to those looking into the quarry.
  4. Upon cessation of operations at a quarry, machinery is often left on site. This can be visible, but may also be submerged below the surface of the water and can cause serious injury to those that swim in quarry lakes.  
  5. The bottom of the quarry may not be flat. Quarries are often excavated in stages and have a number of faces/steps which pose a considerable danger to anyone jumping or diving into quarries.

Quarry Products Association

The Quarry Products Association (QPA) runs a Stay Safe Campaign designed to educate the public about the dangers of disused quarries.  

The QPA Stay Safe website contains valuable resources for teachers and parents. 

Resources

Key legislation

Please note that these links are to the original legislation, visitors should verify for themselves whether legislation is in force or whether it has been amended or repealed.