Queensland’s deputy director-for general mine safety and health (and the acting commissioner for mine health and safety) Paul Harrison has described the year ended 30 June 2014 as a “bad year for fatalities in the Australian mining industry”, with 16 workplace deaths reported across the nation.
He made the remark in the Queensland Mines and Quarries Safety Performance and Health Report, published by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines.
“This is the worst result experienced for a number of years and has raised significant concern amongst regulators and mine operators alike,” Harrison stated. “Although the investigations into these 16 fatal incidents are yet to be concluded, improved training, competency and support of line supervisors has been identified as a key area requiring attention.”
Harrison added that the report had highlighted another area of concern – the disproportionate representation of contractors in fatal accident statistics.
“Seven of the 16 fatalities in Australian mines this [last] year were contractors,” he said. “Roughly two thirds of the fatalities at Queensland mines in the last 13 years (since the new legislation [the Queensland Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Regulation 2001] was introduced) have been contractors.
“The safe management of contractors as well as mine employees is one of the key obligations under Queensland’s mine safety and health legislation. Our legislation does not distinguish between a mining company employee and a contracting company employee. Mine operators, site senior executives and mine management owe an equal duty of care to both.”
Two of the 16 fatalities took place in Queensland, with one breaking the seven-year fatality-free period for the state’s underground coal industry.
No fatalities were reported for the quarry sector over this period.
Despite the grim fatality statistics, the combined number of lost time injuries (LTIs) and disabling injuries experienced by mining workers in Queensland decreased significantly from 1026 in 2012–13 to 831 in 2013–14, with the severity rate for these injuries falling from 293 per million hours to 231.
The frequency rate of LTIs across all sectors also fell from 3.5 to three (3) injuries per million hours, although the frequency rates for quarries increased from five (5) to 6.4 per million hours.
The total number of high potential incidents reported in the quarry sector decreased from 71 in 2012–13 to 60 in 2013–14.
“Mobile plant incidents decreased substantially from the highest reported incident in 2012–13 of 21.1 per cent to 11.7 per cent in 2013–14,” the report stated. “Vehicle incidents rose from 15.5 per cent in 2012–13 to 20 per cent in 2013–14 to be the highest reported quarry incident. Electrical decreased from 9.9 per cent in 2012–13 to 6.7 per cent in 2013–14.”
A summary from Queensland’s chief inspectors of mines, Andrew Clough (for coal mines) and Phil Goode (for metalliferous mines and quarries), stated that in the coming year, the main focus areas for the latter sector would include (but not be limited to):
- Proximity detection.
- Falls of people, equipment and material.
- Entanglement of people with equipment and material.
- Uncontrolled energy releases and catastrophic failures in pressurised systems.
- Fire on mobile equipment and plant.
Commenting on the report’s overall findings, Harrison concluded, “The statistics tell us that in most areas, the industry’s safety and health performance has improved over the previous year and that the Queensland mining industry continues to maintain its pre-eminent position as one of the safest and healthiest in the world. This is heartening news. Nonetheless, there remains opportunity for further progress.”
The full report is available at mines.industry.qld.gov.au