Fatalities spark safety questions

Posted August 17, 2015


(Paul Harrison Department of Natural Resources and Mines Deputy Director-General for mine safety and health)

The 2015 Queensland Mining Industry Health and Safety Conference has started in Townsville.

The importance of sharing safety information was introduced by Professor Jim Joy from Jim Joy and Associates who said mine fatalities averaged seven a year from 2007 to 2012.

That number doubled in 2014. There were seven fatalities in the last 12 months, he said.

The learning and sharing theme will dominate this year’s conference held at the entertainment centre.

Department of Natural Resources and Mines Deputy Director-General for mine safety and health Paul Harrison said the circumstances of the fatal accidents were varied and Mr Harrison said there was no evidence the rise was related the belt-tightening across operations.

“But it’s an issue we have to look long and hard at,” he said.

Mr Harrison is chairing the conference being held over the next two days.

He believes the major safety issue facing the industry at the moment is the question of how to keep focused on safety when there is such an emphasis on cutting costs and increasing productivity.

While there was a concern that safety programs may be trimmed, Mr Harrison said there was also potential for more indirect health and safety ramifications.

“What does a focus on cost-cutting and productivity have on attitude of the workforce? Does it have people thinking more about that than the safety side of things?” he said.

The department was also concerned about the loss of knowledge on sites as experienced workers left amid the waves of retrenchments, Mr Harrison said.

Industry safety and health representative for the CFMEU – Queensland Mining and Energy Division, Greg Dalliston, also raised concerns about the experience and qualifications of people being placed in supervisory roles on mine sites.

He argued that cost cutting was definitely having an impact on safety standards.

But Mr Dalliston said he was hopeful the new Labor government in Queensland would better support mines inspectors who drew attention to safety problems at mining operations.

In a statement, a Queensland Resources Council spokesman said that body was deeply saddened by the recent fatalities and stressed that the safety of workers in the industry would always be regarded as paramount by members.

“QRC members firmly believe that nothing is more important than the safety of workers and that includes productivity and efficiency,” he said.

QRC, along with government, examined each case in an effort to identify any apparent commonality of causes and lessons to be learned from serious accidents, he said.

“QRC has also been discussing effective strategies of ensuring the safety message gets through to all levels of the organisation with the necessary intensity and level of commitment.”

Mr Harrison said the Mines Inspectorate was looking for opportunities to have more interaction with industry and be more proactive.

“We’ve been running some seminars in central Queensland for open-cut examiners, as an example, and we’ve had a very good response,” he said.

Mr Harrison said the Mines Inspectorate would be participating with the QRC in a high-level safety forum with company management in the next few months as well as in the annual Queensland Mining Industry Health and Safety Conference.

Organisers hope to attract as many participants as the 2014 event, just over 600, but Mr Harrison conceded this may be a little optimistic in the face of an industry downturn.

QMIHSC organisers have condensed this year’s format to stretch across two weekdays rather than three.

“Normally we have an opening session on the Sunday evening and run through until lunchtime on Wednesday,” Mr Harrison said.

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