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Queensland’s small mines strategy started with an emphasis on the 400-odd mines and quarries employing 10 people or fewer but excluding opal and gemstone operations.
Queensland’s small mines strategy started with an emphasis on the 400-odd mines and quarries employing 10 people or fewer but excluding opal and gemstone operations.

Promoting safety in small mines

Wayne Scott discusses the implementation of Queensland’s safety health and management systems in small mines and how this model could be adapted across “the ditch”.

Failure to identify hazards is the single biggest drawback to managing safety well on quarry sites and the major issue confronting the small mine sector in Queensland.

The state’s collective mines and quarries have an average of about 181 incidents or injuries each month.

New Zealand and Queensland have about the same population (4.4 million and 4.58 million respectively) and consume per capita similar quantities of aggregate (11 tonnes and 10 tonnes per person). Yet New Zealand features some 800 quarries employing about 2000 workers while Queensland only has 400 quarries employing 2700 workers.

Mines and quarries in Queensland are specifically exempt from the state’s workplace health and safety legislation and are covered by separate mining legislation that imposes obligations on everyone in a quarry or mine site.

Almost half (46 per cent) of the fatalities in Queensland mines in the 10 years to 2006 occurred on sites employing fewer than 10 staff, yet only six per cent of mining workers are in the small mine sector. Coronial inquests suggested the failure of small sites to manage safety in a systematic way had contributed to fatalities.

In 2008, in response to these alarming fatality rates, Queensland Mines and Energy (QME) introduced its small mines strategy. This programme had a number of phases, starting with an emphasis on the 400-odd mines and quarries employing 10 people or fewer but excluding opal and gemstone operations. Until September 2008, this group was not required to have a safety and health management system.

The State Government employed a project team of two full-time inspectors, supported part-time by four other inspectors across the state, to help operators set up and implement effective safety and health management systems for their sites.

In conjunction with the Institute of Quarrying Australia, specifically targeted training sessions were run throughout the state, supported by follow-up visits and hands-on assistance to operators.

The resource material used in Queensland is the Small Mines Safety Management kit, affectionately known as the Brown Book. The third version of this book has just been released and it is an easy to follow resource that provides guidance and templates, etc for the development of a safety health and management system (SHMS).

Attendees are also given a CD with the entire document in Word format, which they can use to develop their own system. The workshops are interactive and we encourage all participants to talk about their sites, their SHMS and their particular hazards and risks.

It is important that each site develops an SHMS that fits their operation. We have run sessions for small quarry operators, block sandstone plants, one-man gold panning operators, peat extractors and sand producers. While the fundamentals of an SHMS are the same, the detail in the SHMS varies site by site.

It is critical that each site develops its system from the ground up, involving all its workers in the process. This is the only way it will implement a workable SHMS for its site.

So far 26 sessions have been run and 244 participants have attended the Introduction to Safety Management Systems workshops. Many more have had one-on-one training. All small operations across Queensland have received initial visits from the Mines Inspectorate. All of the attendees’ sites have received follow-up visits.

Feedback from the workshop attendees has been very positive, with all saying the topic content was useful and 96 per cent agreeing the content was easy to follow.

We were encouraged by the fact a majority of small operators want to improve safety and health at their sites but just did not know where to start. They also had a fear of paperwork and a perception that they needed a BHP-style SHMS. Much of this fear came from those that had worked in larger mines and had experienced very complex systems.

These fears are alleviated at the workshop level and by “keeping it simple”. Participants welcome the simple, informal way with the opportunity to network and exchange ideas.

While smaller sites still require detailed assistance and welcome inspectorates’ support to take the mystery out of what is required, we found larger sites have supported the campaign by offering industry experience and coaching.

The strength and comradeship within the quarrying industry has assisted our programme, with larger organisations helping with workshop attendance and networking with smaller operators. Larger organisations have also been forthcoming in providing examples of forms and standard operating procedures, etc to assist smaller operators with additional templates.

Generally awareness around safety and health has improved with the overall realisation that culture and experience are not enough to manage safety and health in an organisation.

We have had some larger organisations send people to our workshops and they have started to look at the safety performance of their smaller operations and discovered some frightening work practices.

An unexpected benefit from the programme has been the identification of operations previously “unknown” to the Mines Inspectorate. Operators keen to maintain a “level playing field” have been more than happy to report operations they believe are not complying.

Operators are starting to realise they cannot purely rely on culture and experience to manage safety. In my experience, you seldom change culture in an organisation and therefore it is essential that you have systematic ways of ensuring a worker’s safety and health.

Wayne Scott is IQA President and works for the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines. This article is a précis of his presentation on managing safety in small quarry operations at last year’s QuarryNZ conference in Wellington, New Zealand. It was published in the October/November issue of Q&M New Zealand Quarrying & Mining and is reprinted with kind permission.

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Wednesday, 18 September, 2019 12:48am
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