Air hose slammed into man's helmet

Last updated 05:00 08/05/2014

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A highly respected Downer employee died in 2012 after he was hit by a flying air hose that had separated from a compressor.

The inquest for Graham Robert Brown, 67, was held yesterday.

Brown lost consciousness when the hose slammed into his helmet and he died soon after, despite attempts to revive him.

He was working in a team of four men to clear a section of road beside the Homer Tunnel on October 19 , 2012 after an avalanche had blocked the Te-Anau Milford highway.

The work involved drilling into rocks weighing hundreds of tonnes each and putting explosives into the holes to blast them apart.

Worksafe New Zealand health and safety inspector Terry Keene - giving evidence to Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar - said Brown had about 39 years' experience in the drilling industry and was held in high regard by his peers.

A Downer compressor being used to run the drill had been shutting itself down during the day so Brown decided to replace the compressor with a more powerful Atlas Copco compressor parked nearby, Keene said.

Brown changed a fitting on the Atlas Copco compressor so the air hose would fit.

When the Atlas Copco compressor was turned on and air flowed through the hose a workmate indicated to Brown that it it had more pressure than the previous compressor had generated.

Shortly after, at 12.30pm, the air hose detached from the fitting at the rear of the compressor and flicked up, striking Brown on the side of his safety helmet.

Keene said there was no evidence to suggest any consideration had been given to the extra output of the replacement compressor or the use of a safety sock on the end of the hose.

Following the Worksafe New Zealand investigation a criminal charge was laid, alleging Downer had failed to ensure Brown was not exposed to hazards arising out of the use of the compressor.

However, on review, the charges were dropped when it was decided there was a low likelihood of proving the failure, Keene said.

Following the tragedy Downer New Zealand produced a safety alert, requiring the inspection of all hoses and pneumatic pipes, ensuring correct manufacturers clamps were used and all pipe ends were clamped correctly.

Brown's widow, Elizabeth, told Crerar there was a lot of conjecture and the only person who knew exactly what happened was her husband.

Crerar agreed, but said the important thing was the outline of what happened was known.

"We are building on this so it won't happen to any other employee of Downer."

Crerar reserved his decision.

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