‘Stuff happens’ – A case history of a safety incident while assessing slopes in Waioeka Gorge

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‘Stuff happens’ – A case history of a safety incident while assessing slopes in Waioeka Gorge

Field inspection of steep slopes adjacent to transport corridors can pose serious safety hazards. An accident that occurred on one such project highlights the risks and safety considerations posed for geotechnical fieldwork. Geomorphic evaluation of slopes was undertaken in the Waioeka Gorge to assess the risk to the highway from large landslide events. The gorge is a hazardous environment for field work, characterised by very steep bush covered slopes up to 500m high, no cellphone coverage and numerous small rock fall events affecting the road on a daily basis. The investigation methodology used sought to minimise risk exposure to staff by utilising remote techniques such as assessment of Google Earth and LiDAR data, helicopter inspections, followed by field mapping to ‘ground truth’ selected slope features. Due to the hazardous nature of the site a rigorous health and safety plan was developed for the off-road slope inspections. The safety plan was severely tested by a serious incident during field inspection of a steep remote slope 100m above the highway. This paper presents a case history of the accident that occurred and provides a number of valuable lessons that were learnt which reinforce the importance of safety planning and the establishment of robust safety procedures when working in remote slope areas.

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