Emergency response and management

Major incidents at mines are rare due to the improved management of OHS.  However modern mines are complex operations and when something goes wrong the management of the incident is also complex.  SMI-MISHC staff have been actively involved in providing technical advice in managing major fires and explosions at mines as well as undertaking research to improve the management of emergencies.  This research has focussed on the decision making process and the factors that can affect the capacity to make good decisions quickly.  Historically the research effort has focussed on rescue teams and escape mechanisms for workers, but ineffective management of the incident can pose a major threat to successful outcomes. This work has been funded mainly by ACARP and undertaken in conjunction with SIMTARS and the Queensland and NSW Mines Rescue Services.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) performance

Effective safety and health management systems require continual vigilance to ensure that the systems are being implemented as designed and are achieving the desired outcomes. This monitoring and review process requires personnel, resources and management commitment. Reducing either effort or resourcing increases the health and safety risk. Where a low fatality rate breeds complacency, personnel can assume that the hazards are not real as they have not experienced them themselves. This in turn leads to underestimating the risk and the need for controls.

Reports produced by Occupational Trainee Rickard Hansen

   

 

Australian mining context and future

Australian mining safety now faces new challenges associated with sustaining the current improved safety levels while working towards continued improvements in the management of emergent mechanisms of harm. Human factors, ergonomics and psychosocial injuries are some examples of these. Adding to the challenge is that organisations are facing a changed mining landscape due to major economic, social, technological and environmental disruptions.

Artisanal and Small Scale Mining

Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (ASM) is one of the oldest forms of income generation in mineral rich developing countries. Traditionally identified as low capital-high labour intensive and employing rudimentary equipment and mining techniques, ASM is most significantly distinguished from industrial mining by poor safety, health and environment conditions as well as low levels of production. The absence of recorded health and safety data combined with lack of knowledge and training opportunities for those working in the sector means interventions aimed at reducing injury and improving work practices are challenging.  SMI-MISHC staff have been engaged to develop appropriate content and provide “in country “ health and safety training programs to small scale gold, precious stone, quarry and coal miners and the regulatory departments overseeing these activities in Ghana, Madagascar, Mongolia, Guyana, Fiji and Papua and New Guinea. This work has been funded by a number of organisations including the federally funded International Mining for Developing Countries (IM4DC) project, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Bank.  SMI-MISHC continues to seek opportunities to provide interrelated workplace and community based training programs essential to the health and safety needs of the ASM sector.

Risk-based OHS mining regulation

Mining Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) legislation in Australia is generally viewed as being the most progressive in the world. The legislation is based upon duty of care, risk management principles and workforce representation, with the primary responsibility for the provision of a safe work place residing with the operator of the mine site.

Each state in Australia has established its own legislative framework, generally incorporating regulations that encourage the development of management systems and key processes.

More prescriptive or rule-based regulations are still used in areas where the various stakeholders (government, employers and workers) are not comfortable removing compliance requirements. State legislation has been influenced by recent initiatives including the national model OHS legislation, and a National Mine Safety Framework.

Cliff, D 2012, The management of occupational health and safety in the Australian mining industry, viewed 16 October 2016, http://im4dc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/UWA_1698_Paper-03.pdf

Analysing patterns in mining fatality and injury statistics

In the last 25 years, great progress has been made in reducing accidents and incidents in the mining industry in developed regions. Large, highly-mechanised mines that employ relatively small workforces have achieved significant reductions in fatality and injury incidence rates. This is exemplified in Australian mines, where the sector’s fatal injury frequency rate fell to a low of .01 deaths per million working hours in 2011-2012.

The safety gains experienced have occurred against a background of general economic growth, interspersed with brief and shallow downturns. The significant drop in coal mining fatalities between 2001 and 2010 compared to the previous decade was perhaps even more notable because it occurred when Australia was experiencing a resources boom that led to a rapid increase in production and associated labour requirements. It now contends with a very different economic environment characterised by the reduction of production costs and urgency for operational efficiency. Higher extraction costs associated with declining ore grades, longer lease approval periods and the availability of energy and water add further pressure. Maintaining ‘boom’ levels of commitment to safety is more difficult when there is an imperative to produce and a tendency towards overreaction to the market. It can lead to a focus on doing what has to be done rather than what should be done.

In the past two years in Australia, there have been a spate of fatalities in the mining industry, and the rate is much higher than for the previous four years. While this may just be a coincidence, it could also be a warning of things to come.

Risk and the introduction of new mining technology

Technological innovations continue to develop in the mining industry with the introduction of autonomous vehicles and the widespread use of remote control equipment. These technologies offer reduced operating costs, improved productivity of activity and better health and safety conditions when workers are removed from potential operational hazards. However, a danger of low manning levels is that the knowledge and awareness of operational risks also diminishes. As incidents become less frequent, the awareness of them and their potential for harm reduces, which can actually increase the risk of harm. Unless innovations are properly understood, we run the danger of creating new risks – not from malfunctioning systems, but from complex systems functioning as designed, just not as predicted (Dekker, 2011).