Staying safe around quarries
Quarries, particularly abandoned and disused quarries are dangerous places. Several people have died in disused quarries in Northern Ireland in recent years. Most quarries are private and you should not climb over damaged fences or gates to get into them.
Swimming in quarries is dangerous
Some quarry lakes may look inviting on a hot summer’s day, but there are a number of hidden dangers:
- deep water
- cold water
- submerged abandoned machinery and car wrecks
- underwater ledges and recesses
- hidden currents and tunnels
- submerged plants
- dead animals and excrement
- dangerous algae
The greatest danger is cold water
Quarry water is much colder than rivers, lakes and the sea. Many quarries are so deep that they are fed with water from underground springs or aquifers. As this water originates deep within the ground, it is extremely cold.
As a result, you are likely to become exhausted much more quickly than you would think. Also a sudden plunge into cold water could cause your body to go into shock.
Your body’s reaction to jumping into cold water
If you jump into cold water, there is a three stage response your body will follow.
Stage 1: Cold shock (0 to 4 minutes)
A sudden plunge into cold water starts a gasp response which can cause you to drown within seconds of entering the water. It also affects your breathing, heart rate and body’s metabolism.
Stage 2: Loss of performance (0 to 30 minutes)
Poor circulation causes stiff fingers, less coordination, and a loss of motor skills and power. This makes it nearly impossible to grasp a rescue line or hoist. Swimming to safety or climbing out of the water is no longer physically possible. At this stage the cause of death is by drowning.
Stage 3: Hypothermia (more than 30 minutes)
Most cold water deaths result from cold shock or loss of performance. Few people survive to get hypothermia. True hypothermia only sets in after 30 minutes. However, in a quarry with steep sides, no vegetation or rafts, it is possible that you could stay in the water for 30 minutes.
Other dangers in quarries
Disused quarries also pose a threat to motorcyclists, quad-bikers, walkers and mountain bikers. These include:
- sheer faces and falling
- landslide and rocks falling from quarry face
- derelict buildings
- abandoned machinery and broken equipment
- settlement lagoons, silt ponds and quick sand
- sand and spoil heaps
- weather conditions – Northern Ireland is cold in summer and freezing in winter
- hypothermia - despite the season, water deeper than a few inches will be cold enough to cause cold shock
- remoteness - many of these quarries are located in remote rural areas, miles away from a hospital or ambulance station
- access - some are not accessible by vehicle therefore making it very difficult to call the emergency services and for them to reach you when they do arrive
No one should enter a quarry without the permission of the owner.
Find out more about the dangers of quarries
The Mineral Products Association (MPA) runs a Stay Safe Campaign about the dangers of disused quarries. The MPA Stay Safe website contains valuable resources for teachers and parents.
Printable poster and leaflet for display
A printable 'Quarry Water is a Stone Cold Killer: Stay Out, Stay Alive' poster and leaflet can be downloaded for display. They help make people aware of the dangers of entering and swimming in quarries.