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Management and Risk

Is mining safety a journey or a destination?

mining safety australia
Is mining safety a journey or a destination?

OPINION  There is no doubt that there are some safety challenges facing the mining industry in Australia. While it’s clear that there are pockets of excellence with some outstanding initiatives being undertaken by individuals, unions, governments and companies alike, there are also many challenges being faced by parties to realise their own safety goals.

As we begin in 2019, it’s a great time to ask ourselves, have we finally reached our safety destination or are we still on the journey?

Over the last three-four months the Australian mining industry has seen a major train wreck, a mine catch fire, a driver killed in a speeding haul truck crash and sadly as the year finished, a dozer operator plummet off a bench at Queensland coal mine…just to name a few.

In the midst these incidents, there’s been a raft or serious workplace injuries and near misses. Some of which will see injured operators never returning to the pit. When you read the detail, many of these incidents are truly enough to make you cry. Some ‘so-called’ safety practices have defied the normal and the outcomes of incidents are truly saddening for many families and individuals involved.

All of these incidents create excessive waste across the Australian mining industry.

Waste of miner’s lives, waste of company resources in dealing with legal defences or investigating incidents and, a waste of Government revenue in attempting to ensure the thin veil of decency and accountability is maintained in the middle of a public outcry. Economically, it’s ludicrous and emotionally, for many, it’s soul destroying.

Every day, like many of you, I read the comments of mineworkers, managers and families on social media talking of some of the behaviours and practices they witness at some Australian mines.

I hear of CEO’s and site executives espousing good intentioned safety goals, I hear of frustrated supervisors because people won’t follow safety instructions or directions (people just don’t give a shit was what one supervisor said recently) or mine workers who are being told to work in sub-standard unsafe conditions who are not prepared to speak out for fear that they’ll lose an opportunity to get a shirt and become a long-term employee.

I hear of union officials who are afraid to speak for fear that they’ll get it wrong and end up in an on-going ‘shit fight‘ with site management or government and lose credibility in the face of their membership. I also hear of stressed, under-resourced and worn our Government inspectors who want (but can’t because of bureaucracy) to exercise their powers to stop rogue operators.

For me, this all points to some apparent disconnects in existing mining safety practice in Australia.

Are we not better than this? Are we not one of the leading nations of the world when it comes to mining safety? Don’t we have some of the best safety technology on the planet? Don’t we believe that everyone should have a fair go and come home safe from work?

My observation is that some people (on some sites, clearly not all) are tuning out and unplugging from what once was, a true right and passion. Safety has become another ho-hum for some. Another box to tick, another form to fill in to get your money. It doesn’t only apply to mineworkers… there are supervisors, managers and senior managers in organisations who are espousing safety but it may clearly be not part of their DNA.

I hear talk about zero harm on a daily basis, yet mine workers tell us that at some zero harm sites its’ just rhetoric. As long as it doesn’t get in the way of production…many mine workers say. Ultimately people end up disconnecting from safety because it doesn’t seem real… it’s increasingly becoming about the arse-covering and not about ensuring we look after the wellbeing of our mates (irrespective of what level they sit in an organisation).

Many of the recent incidents may have reflected the disconnects that may exist between the boardroom and the pit. In parallel, there also appears a disconnect between the pit bottom and the boardroom…what is really happening is sometimes not getting through…. maybe because some sites wouldn’t want to ruin their perfect record by acknowledging that we actually have some things that we do daily, that we haven’t really risk assessed for many years.

We have gaps at some sites in Australia, clearly some have huge gaps, but for our success at safety to be realised, the gaps must be recognised and bridged by all in the safety circle.

I think in 2018 (broadly) mining safety practice in Australia has learned some hard lessons.

Collectively we need get all players across the industry to re-connect with safety in 2019, understand the hard lessons learned in 2018 and find the areas of excellence and best practice that we can increasingly share across the industry that makes mining safer.

Australasian Mine Safety Journal will make it our aim in 2019 to facilitate the sharing of information to ensure that Australasia’s mining workforce and the wider mining community reconnect with their safety journey. We commit to take on the hard subjects and increase a greater understanding of the value of mining safety to the community.

We look forward to 2019 bringing opportunities for bridging gaps, removing wastage and focusing on what really counts…bringing people home safely.

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