Queensland mining safety highlighted in
A recent ABC interview has highlighted the concerns of many in the industry regarding the lessons learned from past mining accidents in Australia.
ABC announcer Kelly Higgins-Devine talked with Greg Dalliston who is the District Union Inspector of the CFMEU. He clearly remembers the Moura No.2 underground coal mine explosion on 7th August 1994, where 9 miners tragically lost their lives. Moura also had accidents that were well documented way back in 1986.
After the incident an inquiry into the explosion was conducted and there were safety recommendations made to prevent a similar incident ever happening again.
“raised concerns that safety regulations are being forgotten”
However, 20 years down the track Mr Dalliston has raised further concerns that safety regulations are being forgotten. Questions were asked of Mr Dalliston as to what he thinks were the learning outcomes from mining disasters like Box Flat and the three tragic mine explosions at Moura and Kianga.
We must not forget that the Queensland government and the Mines Inspectorate had put in place new legislation to tighten up mining safety since the accidents occurred. The introduction of the Coal Induction course, now known as the Standard 11 Mining Induction, was a major milestone for the Queensland mining industry and established it as one of the safest mining areas in the world.
“lack of attention paid to safety procedures across the mining industry”
However, it seems there are concerns brewing in 2014 over the lack of attention paid to safety procedures across the industry. Strong memories of the New Zealand Pike River mining tragedy in November 201o still echo throughout the mining industry here at home; and it is especially traumatic for those people who work underground every single day.
What is even more concerning are the predictions that over the next decade underground mining operations will be raised from the present day total of 25 per cent in Australia, to around 40 per cent.
In Queensland especially, there is a lot of underground coal still to be mined. The coal depths are getting deeper, therefore there is a higher risk of gassier coal seams which presents a new set of challenges for the coal mining industry.
Underground mining in Australia is set to increase
Underground mining in Australia is set to increase because ore bodies that lie close to the surface are diminishing in quality, meaning more drift mines are having to be planned and developed. With the proliferation in underground mining expected, more and more attention will focus on the safety training of all workers.
Queensland mining safety standards are high, as we said earlier. The low injury and fatality rate in Queensland is in some ways attributable to the Standard 11 and site-specific safety inductions such as the BMA induction.
“high concentrations of gas in underground roadways”
Although Queensland mining has a high safety record, Mr Dalliston recalls instances where some Queensland mines had high concentrations of gas in underground roadways. He cited examples of actual occurrences where an ignition source caused minor explosions, including spontaneous combustion.
According to Mr Dalliston, Queensland mining did enough to stop these types of major underground explosions occurring, however he went on to say that around the time of the Pike River accident a similar accident could have happened.
“a slap-happy approach to mining safety”
One of the most disturbing aspects of the ABC interview was when it was made clear that some of the older and established workforce have a slap-happy approach to mining safety. Either they are in complete denial of the dangers that exist or they just don’t know.
We have also witnessed a reduction in the mining workforce of some of the older and more experienced miners, which in turn has created even more concern. Nothing beats hands-on experience where older workers can educate the less-experienced worker as to the hazards of underground mining . . . things you simply won’t find in a textbook
“younger workers open to change and education”
The younger workers seem to be taking safety more seriously because for the most part, the new era of mining has seen people from all walks of life enter the mining industry. These people have a very different attitude and are open to change and educational programs on safety and risk assessment.
Another area of concern is the change in the national legislation around WHS, although mining Queensland does not specifically come under that aspect, some of that does flow on.
What’s concerning the CFMEU is that elected safety officers of mining companies should be held accountable and exactly what accountability they should have. WHS reps are elected by the workers themselves and this new legislation could prevent WHS officers from attending on-site safety reviews where workers’ safety had been reportedly compromised.
The CFMEU has also commented on how this new legislation prevents them from helping workers to maintain a safe working environment.
“disturbed by the attitude of some mining managers”
Even today when Mr Dalliston visits mines in his capacity as District Union Inspector, he is still disturbed by the attitude of some mining managers when it comes to being extra-cautious, especially when open-cut and underground mining exists at the same location.
For new recruits, entry into the mining industry can be a challenging and nervous time. Unfamiliar surroundings and working in remote locations can increase the likelihood of mining accidents or ‘near misses’.
Queensland mining has one of the most comprehensive mining induction courses in the industry; which usually takes 2 days to complete and has a pre-learning component where students can access pre-reading materials and sit an assessment. New South Wales comes a close second with their own induction program, however it is nowhere near as thorough as the Queensland Standard 11.
Perhaps the most concerning of all states is Western Australia which has an alarmingly high rate of mining accidents and fatalities. Could this be due to the fact, in WA, the MARCSTA training program took only a few hours to complete and to this day is being phased out.
Mining induction is for everyone. Safety awareness and active risk assessment should be a daily routine for every worker.
Learn about mining induction – it could save your life.