The Queensland mine safety inspectorate has reached a crisis point according to department insiders and a former Queensland mines inspector.
Claims of internal infighting, inadequate staff resources to adequately respond and investigate the growing number of mine safety incidents and, the growing frustration over the Queensland Government’s direction in the wake of recent fatalities has resulted in both junior and senior staff believing that the current chaos is affecting outcomes for improved mine safety in Queensland.
“It’s driving staff and the leadership to the brink” AMSJ has been informed.
Rumours are also rife throughout the Department that the frustrated State’s Chief Mine Safety Inspector is also likely to tender his resignation at any time.
In the Queensland Government’s recent estimate hearing, James Purtill the Director-General of Natural Resources and Mines was questioned over the adequacy of resourcing to respond with growing concerns regarding mine safety.
Mr Purtill told the estimates hearing “I will elaborate on the planned numbers of inspectors for the financial year 2019-20. A commitment has been made to add additional resources in 2019-20. As at 30 June, the Mines Inspectorate comprised 22 inspectors of mineral mines and quarries and 22 inspectors of coal mines.”
He said “In response to the recent fatalities in the mining industry and the inspectorate’s response to the underground fire at Goonyella coalmine, the minister has announced that there will be three additional mines inspectors as well as an additional chief inspector. We will have a chief inspector for coalmines and a chief inspector for metallurgical mines and quarries. The additional resources will be located in regional offices to provide effective oversight to operations located across the state. With these additional resources, the total number of mines inspectors will be 48, the highest number in a decade.”
But some staff in the department believe that the current numbers are not an appropriate reflection of the real situation faced by the Department with the number of experienced mining engineering qualified inspectors on the road declining to around 17 in this financial year.
Over a number of years, the department had sought to broaden its discipline base by gathering a breadth of experience through recruitment of a range of specialised inspectors including those from occupational hygiene, geotechnical, mechanical and electrical.
What this means that, in reality, the number of generalist mining engineers who understand mining methods and practices has declined.
“It’s easy to make claims that you have 48 mines inspectors, but the reality is that you may have some inspectors who are limited to providing inspection on their discipline specialisation,” one former mines inspector told AMSJ.
“If you’re an occupational hygiene inspector, you simply don’t have a breadth of skills in mining engineering or operations to examine risks outside your discipline”
“While it’s great that they (the Department) now have people who can inspect complex specific technical issues, the reality is that the department literally have around 12-14 mining engineers on the ground at any one time given that there are leave and compulsory training that inspectors are required to attend – they simply don’t have enough generalists to with mining practice experience to complete adequate inspection for the State’s Mines” the former mines inspector said.
He added, “What they really need are more mining engineers on the ground undertaking inspections and, if they identify key technical issues that are outside their knowledge, by all means, bring in the other technical people…but in reality, it’s very hard to recruit experienced mining engineers to government roles”
AMSJ has also understands that the department has employed staff who are classified as “Mines Inspectors” with no practical on-site mining experience.
At the recent Queensland Budget Estimates hearings, Opposition Spokesperson for mine safety Dale Last asked Department Chief James Purtill “Are you satisfied that those additional resources meet your requirements?
Mr Purtill responded “Obviously I cannot proffer an opinion, but I can proffer the numbers. Certainly, with the additional three mines inspectors and chief inspector as well as the occupational hygienists that were committed to previously, we will have the highest numbers of inspectors in the last decade.”
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