Safety guidelines regularly ignored by workers at time of INPEX death, report finds
A coronial report into the death of an INPEX worker last year has found workplace health and safety guidelines were regularly ignored at the time of his death.
Carl Delaney was working for subcontractor Whittens within a confined area inside a tank on the INPEX Ichthys LNG Project when he died the night of November 29, 2017.
A post-mortem exam report listed his cause of death as suffocation caused by perlite, a powdery insulation material that expands when wet and is likened in the report to sinking sand.
The report, which is dated 2 November 2018 and was provided to Mr Delaney’s family and obtained by the ABC, found evidence “that all persons working in the tanks were from time to time found unconnected” to a safety system comprising a harness and two lanyards that connected to a scaffold buggy.
Mr Delaney was working alone at the time of his death and it remains unclear how he came to be submerged in the insulation material.
In the report deputy coroner Kelvin Currie stated that he decided not to hold an inquest into the death because the investigation sufficiently disclosed the details of Mr Delaney’s death and the information needed to register it with relevant authorities.
A scaffold buggy (pictured) hung down into the space above the perlite. (Supplied: Deputy Coroner)
Safety expectations regularly ignored
Mr Delaney had been working 12-hour overnight shifts for 10 consecutive days on the night he died, the report said.
Although he usually worked six days a week for four weeks followed by a week off, his next day off was to be four days later, on December 3.
Workers were repairing the joins in insulation blankets inside the tank while on a suspended deck surrounded by a ring-shaped space about 70 centimetres wide, more than 30 metres deep and filled with perlite.
The annular space was equipped with a scaffold buggy that hung from rails at the top of the tank to just above the perlite, and workers were expected to connect to it using a safety harness and two lanyards.
Despite an expectation that workers remain connected 100 per cent of the time, the report found this was regularly ignored.
“It was very hot working in the confined area of the tank and perhaps partly to do with that, there is evidence that workers (with no exceptions noted) would regularly be found not connected,” the report stated.
“They would be told to connect.
“However, there was no record kept of those incidents and no consequences for not being connected.”
This photo is adjacent to where Mr Delaney sank into the perlite, which was described as being like sinking sand. (Supplied: Deputy Coroner)
The report also found there was evidence that workers would sometimes work outside of the buggy and would stand on the perlite, and “it was indicated that when it was compacted it would hold the weight of a person”.
“It may have been due to those factors that the dangers suggested by the use of the safety harness and the two lanyards was not seen as necessary,” the report said.
Alone at the time of the accident
Mr Delaney was working in one of two two-person teams at the time of his death.
He and his colleague took a break, after which Mr Delaney returned to the confined space alone.
A system using a harness and two lanyards allowed people to connect to the rails above and the buggy. (Supplied: Deputy Coroner)
The report said his colleague was outside the confined space putting on his mask when he heard a scream.
When he returned he could not see Mr Delaney on the suspended deck nor his lanyard attached to the buggy or the rail.
The worker then found Mr Delaney’s glove reaching out the top of the perlite and tried in vain to grip his wrist before alerting the second crew.
The report found emergency response teams arrived and used a pole to search for Mr Delaney, whose hand had by then submerged beneath the material, before attempting to lift him out.
It also found there was no “gotcha strap” rescue kit in the area, so the crew instead used a rope to pull Mr Delaney clear.
By that time, however, his face mask was full of perlite and he was not breathing.
Despite CPR from those on the scene and the emergency responders, he could not be revived.
“An examination of his harness and lanyards indicated that there were no faults with them,” the report stated.
Bill Townsend, general manager of external affairs and joint venture at INPEX, said the company would not comment until all inquiries into the incident conclude.
“INPEX has full confidence in the formal investigation process, which is in the hands of authorities, and reserves further comment until this process is complete,” Mr Townsend said in a statement.
Family left feeling frustrated
Last week, Mr Delaney’s wife Terry expressed frustration towards the parties involved following the accident, saying she’d been left in the dark in the year since his death.
“My eldest son is very frustrated because he needs somebody to blame,” Ms Delaney said.
“You know, somebody is responsible; somebody didn’t do the job properly. From what we’ve been told, that wasn’t Carl.”
She also expressed frustration at the way she believed the report implied her husband overlooked safety guidelines.
“There needs to be something in place, there needs to be some avenues that you can go down and … get a clear understanding of what’s gone on and who’s at fault.
“To leave it open, it just leaves [my family] very angry.”
The Northern Territory’s workplace health and safety regulator, NT WorkSafe, handed an investigation report and brief of evidence to its legal counsel in October.
A spokesperson said last week that the material was being reviewed to confirm if there had been breaches of the legislation.