The occupational risks of being a cemetery worker were recently highlighted when an employee from a regional NSW council fell into a grave while preparing a coffin for burial.
Fortunately, the worker wasn’t seriously injured.
There was also a positive outcome, with the incident leading the cemeteries team at Griffith Council to design what’s become an award-winning engineering solution to improving OH&S at its council-owned cemetery.
Griffith council was last week awarded the workplace health and safety award at the 2023 IPWEA NSW & ACT State Conference Engineering Excellence Awards for the device – a portable platform that lowers workers into burial vaults, which can be more than two metres deep and reinforced with bricks.
The device was conceived, designed and built in-house using existing Council resources.
Director Infrastructure and Operations Phil King told Government News the accident occurred while the cemetery team leader was lowering himself into the grave to install timber and metal supports over the coffin in preparation for concreting.
“With the coffin down there you don’t want to lower a ladder, you don’t want to touch the coffin, its not the right thing to do, so he was lowering himself and it was just an unfortunate incident, Mr King explained.
“I spent many nights thinking what could be done to overcome the problem, and it just sprung to mind in my sleep.”
What followed was a collaborative effort between the cemetery team, management and council’s fitter-welder Alby Bordignon, resulting in two portable platforms to cater for varying grave site depths.
“We can lower those devices so that we then step down onto them, and we have a platform above the coffin, and we can do the job we have to do safely,” Mr King said.
“Winning the workplace health and safety award is excellent recognition for a staff-initiated solution, manufactured by Council staff to make a workplace task safer.”
The platforms are now use for all burials in the below ground vault section of the cemetery.
Griffith was also recognised at the awards for it’s aquatic centre’s 50m FINA-compliant pool project, taking home the Minister for Local Government’s award for innovation in local government engineering.
The annual awards are designed to recognise excellence of Local Government and Public Works Projects, as well as inspiration, innovation, collaboration, development and completion of projects and technical management by their members.
Griffith Mayor, Councillor Doug Curran, said he is delighted to see Council do so well.
“To be considered among the top councils in NSW and have our projects recognised at this level with the Engineering Excellence Awards is a wonderful achievement,” Councillor Curran said.
“Our projects benefit the community and these awards acknowledge we are on the right track to further grow our city and provide a great lifestyle.”
Read about other award winners in our story here.
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