Queensland mining industry needs to improve safety to avoid deaths

Article by Amanda Jasi

AN expert report says that 12 deaths are likely to occur over any five-year period within the Queensland, Australia mining industry if it does not improve safety. The report also makes several recommendations to help industry do so.

The report reveals the findings of an expert review commissioned by Queensland Minister for Natural Resources, Mines, and Energy, Anthony Lynham. The review examined fatal incidents in Queensland mines and quarries from January 2000 to July 2019, to identify changes needed to improve health and safety in Queensland’s mines and quarries.

Over the 19.5-year review period 47 mining industry fatalities occurred, in a cycle characterised by periods of a significant number of deaths, followed by a period of few-to-no deaths. According to the report, this suggests periods of increasing and decreasing vigilance. Based on past behaviour, the report projects that 12 deaths will occur over any five-year period if the industry continues to take a similar approach to safety as it had during the review period.

The report says that while superficial examination of the incidents would suggest that many were caused by “freak accidents”, the review discovered that most fatalities were not. It adds that many were preventable, and rarely had a singular cause. In some cases, prior fatalities had occurred in a similar manner.

According to the report, the incidents typically occurred due to a “combination of banal, everyday, straightforward factors, such as a failure or absence of controls, a lack of training, and/or absent or inadequate supervision”.

Furthermore, some incidents involved known faults, where individuals were aware of them but took no action. Several fatalities occurred after near misses, or even after other fatalities which had occurred in a similar manner.

Almost all of the incidents were due to systematic, organisational, or supervision, or training failures, with or without human error. 17 of the incidents involved no human error at all on the part of the deceased.

The report makes a total of 11 recommendations to industry and the regulator help improve the safety of Queensland’s mining industry. Its recommendations to industry include that it should:

  1. Recognise it has a fatality cycle
  2. Recognise that a combination of causes typically leads to fatality. Companies should aim to capture these combinations in internal incident investigations and not simplify to a singular cause, potentially masking underlying system failures
  3. Focus on ensuring workers are appropriately trained for the specific tasks they undertake
  4. Focus on ensuring that workers are appropriately supervised for the tasks they undertake
  5. Focus on ensuing that controls to manage hazards are effective and enforced
  6. Adopt the principles of High Reliability Organisational theory, which at its fundamental level focuses on identifying precursor incidents to larger failures to prevent failure

To the regulator the report recommends actions that will help it to proactively assist industry in moving towards behaving like a high reliability organisation; encourage open reporting; and, enable more reliable measurement of safety.

According to The Australian, Queensland Resources Council CEO, Ian Macfarlane, said the report is a “very sobering assessment” which industry takes seriously. Reportedly, Macfarlane has committed to reviewing the recommendations urgently.

The Australian further reports that according to Lynham, Queensland’s Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health, Kate du Preez, and two committees, will examine and implement the recommendations.

Lynham said that Sean Brady, Forensic Structural Engineer at engineering failure investigation company Brady Heywood, will report to him in six months with an assessment of how industry and the regulator have adopted his recommendations. Brady led the review and wrote the report.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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