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OPINION: So who’s to blame?

By John Ninness

The four deaths in the Queensland coal mining industry over the last year is no doubt the worst fatality record for the industry in twenty years.

While they appear as separate isolated incidents, there is no doubt that if four workers had been killed in a mine explosion or together at one site there would be a massive industry shake-up in respect of safety. The industry would no doubt be looking down the barrel of an independent government inquiry into mine safety in Queensland.

Surely the industry must question if the softly-softly approach to designating responsibility for incidents is working. We’ve probably all seen the washroom mirror sticker that says “you’re looking at a person responsible for your own safety” and we all certainly know the general tenets of legislation, but let’s face the facts: Four people died while on the job at Queensland coal mine sites this year.

Professor Neil Gunningham, a leading safety professor from the Australian National University, recently stated: “many companies admitted risk management was not being done properly. They felt they had reached a plateau, or risk management was not being treated as seriously as it should be.”

He also said that not every mining company had concerns.

“The industry generally thinks it’s doing well and it has done well,” he said.

“But you’re only a hair’s breath away from disaster.”

So in the context of Professor Gunningham’s remarks, it is clear that the industry must start to scrutinise itself. Who ultimately is to blame for the four deaths in the Queensland mining industry?

Now now, you may say softly-softly… It’s a no blame culture here in our industry – we all share the love and responsibility.

Well, let’s have a think about that in the context of moral (and to lesser extent, legal) responsibilities.

Government’s shape society – they provide for the rules of the game and of course provide for basic human rights. In respect of mine safety they legislate, administer and shape the context in which the company’s and individuals operate.

Companies provide safe places of work for their employees by ensuring safe premises, machinery and materials, systems of work, information, instruction, training and supervision and a suitable working environment and facilities.

Unions represent their members – they are the collective voice of their members and examine breaches and conduct in respect of safety in order to protect their members.

Company organisations/representative bodies represent their membership and aim to promote the cross-sharing of information and improving compliance among their members.

Chief Executive of the Queensland Resources Council Michael Roche recently said that tighter controls and a focus on preventing the most dangerous risks on mine sites was something the industry should share best practice on.

“While we’re still killing people and people are having serious injuries, we know that we have to change what we’re doing,” he said.

We’d like you to be the judge, but in light of the four tragic events in Queensland over the last year, it’s clear that there is no time for fire gazing across the industry.

Maybe it’s time for the industry to get back to basics and step up to its responsibilities to send loved ones back to their families each night.

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  • It’s not just the mining industry where deaths are occurring and 4 isn’t all that many compared to other countries or even other Australian industries.
    There is allot that could be done but it all costs money, which no one seems to be willing to spend.
    *Workplace Health and Safety laws need to get tougher!
    *States need to have a minimum level of alignment with the harminisation of the WHS laws.
    *There should be more compulsory government and union safety audits on workplaces (minimum quarterly).
    *More “recognised’ and regular onsite safety training that is relevant to individual workplaces.
    *Safety incentives rather than production incentives.
    *Safety professionals should be industry trained as well as degree qualified.

AMSJ Nov 2021