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Increase in mine deaths prompts safety alerts

Stewart BellAn open letter from Stewart Bell, Queensland Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health

2013-14 shaping up to be a dangerous year for mining  contractors. It doesn’t have to be.

Eight people have died in Australian mining operations in the last seven months.
The Australian mining industry has recently seen a disturbing increase in mining deaths. We
simply cannot afford to ignore the current number of fatalities at Australian mine sites so early into the 2013-14 reporting year. Five of these mine workers were contractors.

Each tragic report of a mine worker losing their life at work, signals a definite warning about mine
safety management and its failure to effectively address hazards and manage risk. In just over the
past six months the following fatalities have occurred at Australian mine sites:

• 15 August 2013, a contract electrician was killed at a crushing plant at an iron ore mine in
Western Australia.
• 30 November 2013, a contract operator in a light vehicle was crushed by a haul truck at an
opencut coal mine in New South Wales.
• 4 December 2013, a contract operator was killed while working on a tailings discharge line at a
gold and copper mine in Western Australia.
• 9 December 2013, two maintenance workers were killed at a Tasmanian underground copper
mine when the timber stage they were standing on collapsed and they fell 35m.
• 29 December 2013, a contract maintenance worker was killed, the second fatality for the year
at the same Western Australian iron ore mine.
• 17 January 2014, a Tasmanian copper mine recorded its third death when a contract loader
operator died in a mudrush from a stope.
• 15 February 2014, a miner was killed in a rock fall at a West Australian gold mine.
December 2013 was the worst month in the Australian mining industry for a long time with four
fatalities. This continued tragic loss of life in the mining industry is unacceptable and immediate
steps must be taken to stop it.

The majority of these mineworkers were contractors. Even though Queensland is not represented
in these recent statistics, contractors are vastly over-represented in Queensland mining fatal
accidents.

I want to reiterate my concern about the number of contractor fatalities at Queensland mine sites
over the last 13 years.

Families should be confident that when a loved one goes to work in the mining industry they will
come home safely, regardless of whether they are contractors or mining company employees.

Where to from here

While these recent fatalities are still under investigation, some cautionary comments can be
provided based on the lessons of previous fatalities.

To avert further industry deaths, mine operators, mine management, supervisors and all mine
workers and contractors alike, are reminded that they are working in an inherently hazardous
industry that requires constant attention.

Mine operators, site senior executives (SSEs) and mine management must understand that the
effective management of contractors and their employees is one of their key obligations.
Queensland mining safety and health legislation does not distinguish between mining company
and contractor employees.

In Queensland, our mining acts require that a single mine site specific safety and health
management system (SHMS) is used for employees and contractors alike to ensure that risks are
controlled and are at an acceptable level. Running multiple SHMSs in parallel–mine and
contractors–is unlikely to achieve a safe outcome and is contrary to legislative requirements.
Mine management, in particular the SSE, is charged with managing safety on mine sites. This can
only be achieved through the establishment and effective implementation of one SHMS that
provides direct control over all facets of the operations.

Where contractors are used at mining operations the following must be considered and addressed
in the site SHMS;

• All contractor activities/personnel and equipment are identified.
• An effective method for supervising contractors is established.
• All contractor activities have procedures/standard work instructions or job safety analyses
(JSAs) that form part of the site SHMS.
• All contractor employees are confirmed as competent to undertake their intended tasks.
• All contractor equipment is maintained appropriately and is fit for purpose.

I cannot emphasise enough that the safety of all mine workers, regardless of whether they are a
contractor or mine employee, is primarily the responsibility of the mine operator and SSE. This can
only be achieved by implementing an effective single SHMS that manages all the personnel,
equipment and activities associated with the mining operation regardless of who is undertaking the
activity, owns the equipment and pays the workers.

Ensuring contractors are being managed under a single SHMS is a key focus this year for the
Queensland Mines Inspectorate.

Let’s make sure that in Queensland all our contractors and their mine worker colleagues get home
safe and healthy to their families and that we don’t add anyone to this tragic list of fatalities.

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