BHP accused of rolling over on vehicle safety

In a phased approach from this year onwards, only vehicles with a Five Star Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rating will be allowed on BHP mine sites.

The policy applies to both BHP fleet and contractor owned vehicles on any BHP site anywhere in the world and to all new vehicles brought into service from January 2013 onwards.

The policy also prohibits the fitment of non-ANCAP compliant bull bars and aftermarket suspension kits (and upgrades) as well as roll over protection. But why now?

When contacted by Australian Mining, a BHP spokesperson said the company was committed to safety.

“The health and safety of all of our employees and contractors is our absolute priority,” she said.

“BHP Billiton continually reviews the company policies and procedures to ensure best practice is maintained.

 “Our decision to move to the highest ANCAP safety rating will, by 2016, improve the safety rating of an estimated 50,000 vehicles a year in Australia alone, resulting in broad community benefits as safer vehicles appear on the road."

ANCAP have applauded the new measure by BHP stating that it will force car manufacturers into implementing higher levels of safety in light commercial market vehicles.

ANCAP chief, Nicholas Clarke, said the move would encourage car makers to take on similar policies.

“This demonstrates the supporting influence big business can have on manufacturers and we encourage other businesses, large and small, to consider adopting a similar policy,” Clarke said.

“With one third of compensable work related fatalities involving a vehicle, vehicle safety is paramount in protecting our employees, and investing in safer vehicles is an investment in the safety of these employees.”

But with the ANCAP rating focused on the issues of on-road safety, not off-road, many believe the new policy will present increased safety risks to employees.

Critics are also concerned over the fact that aftermarket products like bull bars and upgraded suspension cannot be retro-fitted, further adding to on-site safety issues.

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union have also expressed concerns over the safety of the new policy.

Health and safety representative Greg Dalliston said he was concerned that new standards reduced rollover protection.

“All I've asked is that they show the standard that was on the vehicles before and the standard they've got now, the new standard, is equal to or better than what they had before and so far they can't show me that.”

 Dalliston said while they accounted for only a small number of total accidents, one-in-five fatalities were from rollovers.

 “We've had 29 rollovers since January last year on mines in Queensland — 17 on coal mines and with the protective structures we've had in place, we've only had one person with some slight injuries,” he said.

The Australian 4 Wheel Drive Industry have also questioned the occupant safety protection afforded by the introduction new the policy.

Spokesman for the 4WD Industry Council (4WDIC) Stuart Charity, said it strongly supports the drive to improve vehicle occupant safety on and around mine sites but is disappointed by the lack of consultation.

"On the surface, most people would view the BHP policy as a great step forward. However, the 4WDIC is disappointed at the lack of consultation and the 'one size fits all' policy outcome,” he said.

"Australia has a large and innovative 4WD aftermarket industry. It offers a wide range of Australian Design Rule (ADR) approved products designed to protect vehicles and occupants in our hostile remote regions.

"Among those proven products are bull bars, suspension enhancements for additional load bearing capacity and roll over protection systems (ROPS). The BHP policy takes little from the aftermarket industry's extensive knowledge and experience in engineering vehicles to suit their intended end use.

"While the 4WDIC supports the move to ANCAP Five Star ratings for mining vehicles, we see no need to ban the fitment of safety equipment that does not adversely affect compliance with mandatory vehicle standards and does not reduce the safety performance of the vehicle.

“The 4WDIC believes this ban will result in vehicles that are less safe on public roads and in remote areas."

Charity has also accused the major miner of slashing costs at the risk of workers safety.

"We believe their intent was to reduce costs on the fit-out of vehicles using an ANCAP [rating] as a justification for everything but as I say, ANCAP has significant limitations when you're driving in the sort of conditions that these vehicles are driven in.”

Charity says the policy does not make sense.

"We know that vehicles need to be modified for their end use – we've got supporting data to prove that," he said.

"We've given that [to] BHP, they've chosen to ignore that.”

He added that vehicles are built off global platforms and sold into 40 different countries.

"We don't believe they're designed for the end use of mining applications," he said.

According to Global NCAP, BHP’s decision was based on recent research at Crashlab in Sydney, to assess if bullbars and ROPS contribute to an increased risk of injury to vehicle occupants.

In its testing, four Toyota Hilux dual cabs were used – three of these vehicles were fitted with ROPS and one without.  All four test vehicles were fitted with a steel bullbar. 

The vehicle fitted with ROPS rolled 180 degrees onto its roof in the first test.  The vehicle without ROPS rolled onto its side.  The vehicle without ROPS was re-tested with 35kgs of ballast above the rear screen of the cab (to simulate the weight of ROPS at roof level) and rolled onto its roof.

For these vehicles and test configurations, the results showed:

  • for the corkscrew rollover test the ROPS structure appeared to increase propensity for the vehicle to roll by increasing the centre of gravity height.
  • ROPS did not eliminate roof crush over the front seated occupants and, for a rollover of this type and severity, the ROPS demonstrated limited potential to reduce the risk of serious injury to the front seat occupants
  • any ROPS structure which prevents the as-designed deployment of side curtain airbags for the front and rear seat occupants greatly increases the risk of serious head or brain injuries in side impacts (with trees, poles and other vehicles).
  • the bull bar fitted to the frontal offset crash test vehicle caused intrusion into the footwell and displacement of pedals which was not present in the ANCAP test of the same vehicle without a bull bar.

However, Susie Bozzini, a researcher at the Center of Injury research in California, is not convinced.

“Production vehicles generally have weak roofs: they crush at the front pillar when the windshield breaks and the roof caves in on the front seat occupants,”she explained.

“BMA ran a test with a production vehicle with a weak roof and the roof crushed significantly. Then BMA performed the same test on the same vehicle with an internal 4-posted ROPS structure. This type of structure is fitted behind the front seats at the B-Pillar area and extends rearward to the C-Pillar. This internal ROPS works when the vehicle rolls without forward pitch, meaning nose down. However, when a vehicle  rolls over with pitch, the forces are on the front of the roof at the A-Pillar and windshield header. 

“So, it is not surprising that BMA got the same result with a production vehicle and an internal 4-posted ROPS for the type of test they did

“I believe their goal was to be able to say that ROPS didn't make a difference, so why spend the money on them?” she said.

“We recognise that industry members and representative may have concerns when we implement changes to our safety policies and procedures,” BHP told Australian Mining.

“However no changes are implemented without extensive research and consultation to ensure the most relevant safety technologies are adopted globally.

“We remain confident this is the right decision for our workforce and the community as safer vehicles appear on the road.”

But with the CFMEU claiming that the company refuses to hand over information regarding safety ratings –evidence of how the new policy will affect workers will result from the statistics collected when accidents occur.

From the reaction from our readers who work on mine sites, most are clear about which vehicles they would rather operate.

“I would prefer to be in a vehicle with roll over protection on a mine than 5 star ANCAP,” one said.

“The ROPS secondary function is to give structural integrity (survival space) to the vehicle body in case of a landslide falling on top of the vehicle, especially on a rollover off ramps to open pits,” another worker noted.

The only thing left to see is if BHP will roll over to public opinion, or crush dissent.

Images: ancap.com; theaustralian.com; bhpbilliton.com