Analysis reveals lack of progress in reforming safety measures in Australia’s mines for a decade

Analysis reveals lack of progress in reforming safety measures in Australia's mines for a decade

The explosion at the Moura No 2 underground coal mine in Queensland on August 7, 1994, resulted in the tragic deaths of 11 miners. This incident served as a catalyst for significant changes in safety practices across all types of mines in Australia during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Since then, there have been notable improvements in safety performance. In 2003, there were 12.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers, but a decade later, this figure had decreased to 3.4.

However, progress has since slowed or even halted. Despite the mining industry’s adoption of risk management systems, competency training, and a shift away from strict regulations following the Moura incident, the rate of deaths and serious injuries has remained largely unchanged over the past decade.

Given the size and diversity of Australia’s mining industry, as well as the inherent dangers involved in the work, it may be unrealistic to expect zero fatalities. Nevertheless, striving for zero fatalities must remain the ultimate goal.

There has been an increase in “one-off” incidents leading to deaths. Previously, most deaths were caused by major incidents like fires, explosions, and mine flooding that could harm multiple individuals. Safety efforts have primarily focused on addressing these hazards, which now account for less than 20% of deaths. As a result, today’s tragedy landscape is more scattered, with fatalities occurring in various scenarios.

Currently, most deaths are caused by isolated events such as being struck by objects, caught in machinery, falling from heights, or vehicle collisions. Addressing all these possibilities is more complex.

Human factors also play a significant role. Despite advancements in mine automation and remote operation technologies that reduce workers’ exposure to hazards, there are indications of worsening mental health, increased fatigue, and high staff turnover, which can erode corporate knowledge.

Psychological and social issues affect approximately 20% of the modern mining workforce. Although there are fewer workers on-site, they often face immense production pressures, and their schedules can be challenging for family life. Poor mental health can impair decision-making and reduce vigilance, leading to safety problems.

There have been some promising developments, such as the adoption of the “critical control management” approach by companies like Rio Tinto and Newmont. This method identifies a small number of crucial controls that can prevent serious incidents and allocates resources to design, implement, and maintain them rigorously.

Future safety improvements are expected from better equipment design, further advancements in automation and remote operation, and mental health initiatives like Western Australia’s Mental Awareness, Respect, and Safety program.

However, despite these advancements, the mining industry has still experienced an average of eight fatalities per year over the past decade. Therefore, more safety reform is necessary. While new technologies and initiatives may be beneficial, they will not be a complete solution.

In the past five years alone, Queensland has undergone three “safety resets” with limited results. Real safety improvement will be gradual and steady, achieved through consistent application of proven safety management techniques.

Discover more from WIREDGORILLA

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading