The more things change, the more they stay the same

?The origin of mining is lost in the darkness of antiquity, but archaeological discoveries associate the industry with man’s earliest strivings to surmount his primitive environment. Our forebears used stag-horn picks to carve their way through seams of chalk to reach the beds of flint from which they fashioned their weapons. With comparative efficiency, similar effort provided the stones for the pyramids. In fact, the history of man, for, after satisfying his bodily needs, he has assiduously pursued his search for metals or precious stones, the one giving him power, the other wealth. He did not count the cost. While the industry gave nations supremacy, it inflicted on the miners a heavy burden of crippling injuries, broken health and death and, for centuries, this was a price society was prepared to pay and ignore. Mining was regarded as an inevitably hazardous industry.

However, within the last century, man’s conscience has been stirred by disasters and the stark tragedies that faced the miner and his family – and demanded changes. Science introduced new techniques to the industry, engineering produced a wider knowledge of the problems, and medicine has contributed solutions to the health hazards. This technological endeavour has produced an immense change, enabling the industry to exercise greater control over its processes and methods, and providing the men with a sense of security they did not previously enjoy. This technological change has been primarily directed towards understanding and controlling the natural hazards of the mine, and preventing disasters in the pits with their frequent appalling loss of life.

Against this background, the results achieved in safety throughout the quarries of the Company in South Australia, and at Yampi, in Western Australia, show that quarrying  can be carried on with the same freedom from injuries as has been achieved  by other industrial classifications in the last 25 years.

The result is more remarkable in that it has been achieved in the face of rising production, increases in the labour force, a high labour turnover, and development and construction programs proceeding side by side with normal quarrying.

In 1958, a study of quarry accidents revealed that while these costs produced an occasional accident, the greater proportion of quarry injuries occurred in practice and processes common to general industry, and not peculiar to quarrying itself. Quarry men were injured when “handling material”, being “caught by”, or “between”, or “struck by” moving parts or objects, or through “falls”, in the same manner as for men in machine shops, shipyards or steel works. This knowledge reduced the quarries’ safety problem to the same components that other low accident rating industries have faced.

Quarry officers were able to give staff an understanding of the problem and create in the minds of their labour force an awareness of the necessity for the constant application of safe practices and methods.

Eventually, within the working groups, a safety atmosphere was produced that displaced the hopeful philosophy, “it can’t happen to me”, with the more realistic “it can, and may happen to me.”

Safety, however, still remains a complex abstract problem for which there is no short-cut solution and no automatic panacea.

The achievement of a satisfactory rate means that the quarries will have to continue to operate a well-balanced safety program, giving attention to both theory and practice. Only then can freedom from accidents, which is now accepted as essential to the prosecution of any industrial undertaking, be maintained and still further improved. “

Which brings me back to the heading of this story….There is still a constant need for all of us ? at work, at home with our families and particularly on the road ? to change from “it can’t happen to me” to “it can and it may happen to me”, and consciously think about safety at all times.

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