Authorities want to examine resources operations more often for compliance.
The Queensland Transport and Resource Committee recently recommended increasing unannounced Resources Safety and Health Queensland (RSHQ) visits to 25 per cent of all inspections before the 2024 financial year.
A latest committee report acknowledged Queensland’s mining sector has the third-worst fatality rate compared to the industry average. It stressed no workers should face reprisal for reporting occupational health and safety concerns.
A total of 66 coal mines operate across the Sunshine State. Four work-related deaths and 1541 hospitalisations were recorded between 2020 and 2022. Another 592 mine dust lung disease cases were reported in the 2022 financial year alone, according to the Star News Group.
RSHQ visited MMG’s Dugald River underground mine (65km northwest of Cloncurry) at least 27 times and issued three directives to suspend operation since July 2020.
“These directives related to specific activities and operations rather than all operations at the mine, and none of the directives related to safety around stopes. Directives are issued to suspend operations when an inspector considers risks from operations present an unacceptable level of risk to workers,” an RSHQ spokesperson said according to News Limited.
Underground work was suspended in May 2021 when a high potential incident (HPI) stopped heavy vehicle tyre replacement for two days. Another directive was issued three months later due to another HPI involving the same site’s Mack truck agitator and water truck fleet that took 10 days to resolve.
Work was again stopped from 18 to 21 September 2022 because an underground loader caught on fire.
RSHQ is still investigating the deaths of Dylan Langridge and Trevor Davis. The pair had travelled in a utility vehicle to lay explosive charges 125 metres beneath the surface when the ground collapsed at about 8:55am on 15 February 2023. The vehicle, and a drilling rig following closely behind, plunged 15 metres into a refilled ore stope and were fatally injured.
The rig worker escaped with minor injuries and raised the alarm. Neither of the missing ute occupants responded to radio communication. Since ground stability concerns delayed rescue teams from removing debris they deployed drone technology to help locate the vehicle.
“Early investigations suggest that the stope void had been caused due to bogging operations on the level below the area where the light vehicle and drill rig had been operating. It is unknown at this stage why those bogging operations were being carried out,” mineral mines and quarries chief inspector Hermann Fasching said in a safety notice.
“Mining to remove ore and subsequent backfilling activities can result in hazards, including the formation of voids within stopes. A void within a backfilled stope can result in slumping of the fill material, and this can impact on the structural integrity of roadways crossing the stope area.”
Preliminary recommendations urge operators and site senior executives to immediately:
- ensure all mine stopes and roadways above are backfilled and structurally sound
- implement controls to ensure risk is managed to an acceptable level where voids and/or slumping is identified
- implement controls to prevent material loss from the bottom of stopes that can form voids
- implement controls to prevent inadvertent bogging or mucking from the bottom of stopes
- implement controls to manage risk to workers near areas affected by slumping in stopes
- audit and review mine safety and health management system effectiveness related to hazard control and risk to workers near backfilled stopes.