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Fatalities force Queensland extractive sector to take stock

The measure is among a series of new initiatives to emerge from an urgent Queensland ministerial forum on 10 July, which established a government/industry response to address health and safety concerns in the state’s mining and quarrying industries.

The forum came three days after 27-year-old mineworker Jack Gerdes was crushed and killed while trying to get into an excavator at the Baralaba North mine in the Bowen Basin. His death was the state’s sixth mining and quarrying-related fatality in the past 12 months.

The Queensland Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Anthony Lynham MP hosted the forum. It involved representatives of Cement Concrete & Aggregates Australia (CCAA), the Queensland Resources Council, the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union and the Australian Workers Union.

The meeting culminated in a joint communiqué, which outlined plans to implement a Queensland ‘safety reset’ by the end of August, among other measures.

The reset, which must cover all employees, would allow for specific on-site discussions between management, operational staff and union representatives pertaining to risks and safe practice.

{{quote-A:R-W:175-I:2-Q:“We hope that the safety reset will provide a chance for mines and quarries to stop and focus on why safety is important, to know the personal stories behind recent fatalities, and to reassess safety practices” -who:Aaron Johnstone, CCAA Queensland director}}“The minister asked CCAA as the industry peak body to take a leadership role in this matter on behalf of the quarrying industry,” CCAA Queensland state director Aaron Johnstone told Quarry. “We will communicate the expectations of the safety reset, and will support members in delivering this reset across the state.”

Johnstone said while the industry had made significant health and safety improvements, it needed to remain vigilant. “There have been two fatalities at quarries in Queensland over the past 12 months. In this context, we hope that the safety reset will provide a chance for mines and quarries to stop and focus on why safety is important, to know the personal stories behind recent fatalities, and to reassess safety practices on key high risk areas within the operation.

“The reset will complement safety initiatives that many companies already have in place and will highlight to the broader community that our industry is serious about safety. They will be tailored to individual sites and the specific nature of the quarrying industry.”

Johnstone added: “Importantly, we need to ensure there continues to be an environment and culture where all workers are encouraged to, and feel free to, report hazards and near misses, to develop practical solutions to possible risks, and where companies feel free to share their issues with regulators and other companies.”

Inspectorates appointed

The first of Queensland’s two quarrying-related deaths occurred on 29 July, 2018, when the operator of a fully loaded, articulated dump truck lost control down an access ramp. The vehicle overturned, partially pinning the operator under the cab.

The second occurred on 15 November, 2018, when a quarry employee became entangled in the rotating tail drum of a conveyor belt before a co-worker activated the emergency stop device. Preliminary findings indicate the tail drum guard had been removed to allow rocks to be cleared.

The spike in fatalities and subsequent forum has prompted the Queensland Government to appoint three additional mines inspectors and another chief inspector. It has also initiated two independent reviews that will examine:

  • Why mine workers have died over the past 20 years; how industry can improve; and how the Mines Inspectorate can work better.
  • The effectiveness of the state’s mining health and safety legislation.

“We will also provide quarrying industry input to the legislation review that has been announced by the minister, and continue to provide quarrying industry input through our representation on the Mining Safety and Health Advisory Committee,” Johnstone said.

“These specific actions will build on a range of association activities we’ve had in place for some time to support our members on safety and health.”

Johnstone said quarrying and mining operations present inherent risks, which must be properly managed. “The industry does this effectively through application of its safety management systems. However, we welcome the Queensland Government’s decision to commission Dr Sean Brady to conduct a forensic investigation into the causal factors of the mining and quarrying fatalities and high potential incidences recorded over the past 20 years which will help to further improve these systems.”

According to the joint communiqué, industry and government also gave a commitment to co-operate further on reforms to strengthen safety culture in the resources sector. This includes potential sanctions for reckless behaviour and legislative reforms, such as the government’s proposal to actively consider the offence of ‘industrial manslaughter’, which exists in other industry sectors.

They also hope to convene a safety forum as part of the annual Queensland Mining Industry Health and Safety Conference on the Gold Coast from 18 to 21 August.


More reading:
Mine safety: Too much, too far?
Challenging ourselves, our records on safety
Workplaces urged to scrub up on safety
Worker fatally buried in former quarry
The challenges of managing a site under current legislation

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