Shelter from the storm

TROPICAL cyclone season is well and truly underway in Australia with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting an above-average season. With that in mind, a Perth-based shelter manufacturer has launched a unit to protect workers in cyclones rated up to category 5.
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The CAT5 cyclone shelter

Kristie Batten

The CAT5 lockdown unit, designed by Lowrie Constructions, can protect people for up to 36 hours in extreme conditions, making it ideal for minesites.

“We have entered a new era of employment and industrial regulation which requires contractors, mine owners and managers of remote communities in our far north to take full responsibility for a safe workplace and local community environment,” Lowrie Constructions general manager Adrian Poyner said.

“There have been fatalities and serious injuries in recent years during the passage inland of cyclones and these losses are a timely, if sobering, reminder of the dangers of working in these remote and extreme conditions.”

The CAT5 can hold up to 400 personnel and smaller versions can be truck-mounted for emergency use by field teams working away from the main site.

The shelters feature a temporary power pack, emergency lighting, basic medical room, kitchen, seating area, communications hub, toilet facilities, an entertainment area, supply store, water tank and an air-conditioning system.

“The edict that ‘every employee has the right to return home from work uninjured’ holds as much relevance today as it has historically, but more so in our cyclone-prone areas from Cairns to the Top End and through to the Pilbara and far north of WA,” Poyner said.

“These regions are home to an intensifying number of mining and exploration operations and therefore the number of personnel that have to be located and housed for longer periods ‘on the ground’.”

The CAT5 unit contains steel plates within the wall structure to resist high-level wind loads and wind-borne debris. It is also designed as a refuge for evacuees from areas which may be inundated by sea water due to cyclone-driven tidal surges.

The transportable building can function as administration or recreation rooms when not in use, but can be locked down when a cyclone is approaching.

“Critically, the CAT5 now means that employees do not have to be evacuated hundreds or thousands of kilometres south for days on end – a procedure which historically is matched by high transport costs and loss in productivity,” Poyner said.

“On-ground operations can resume almost immediately [after] the cyclone danger has passed, and for project owners, avoids years of costly potential litigation through the courts if injury has occurred through lack of adequate safety shelters.”

The BoM is forecasting a higher than average number of cyclones for the current season across all cyclone-prone regions, estimating up to 22 cyclones may hit Australia, compared to the long-term average of 12.

“The approach of the 2010-11 cyclone season in northern Australia has coincided with recent landmark court determinations recommending significantly higher standards of safety and shelter for employees on mining sites during severe adverse weather conditions,” Poyner said.

In July, Laing O’Rourke was convicted in the Western Australian Supreme Court for failing to provide a safe workplace after two employees were injured when Cyclone George struck in 2007.

Fortescue Metals Group and five other contractors are still facing charges over the rail camp tragedy, in which two workers were killed and 20 injured.

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