Queensland must blaze a fresh path to safety

WITH a reset called it seems clear the Queensland mining industry is in deep shock after six mining fatalities in 12 months.
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Queensland's record in safety was once impeccable and the envy of the mining world. 


In 2015-16 its mining industry was fatality free. There were two fatalities in 2016-17 and one fatality in 2017-18.


However, the spate mine deaths over the past 12 months is the worst seen in about 20 years, according to respected Queensland Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre Professor David Cliff.


"To get one or two may be an aberration," Cliff told AAP.


"To get six is not an aberration."


Cliff, along with union and industry figures, is adamant the number of mining fatalities should be zero.


"They should all be avoidable, with our current level of mature safety culture and effective systems," he said.


Queensland mines minister Dr Anthony Lynham should be commended for convening an emergency meeting of the Queensland Resources Council and unions to deal with this issue.


Queensland mines and quarries will now implement a safety reset by the end of August for discussions between management, operational staff and relevant union representatives on risks and safe practice.


The Queensland government has also announced two reviews of mining health and safety after the state's mining union called for a full inquiry into recent workplace deaths in the sector.


Both reviews are to be completed by the end of the year and their reports will be tabled in Parliament.


"Forensic structural engineer Dr Sean Brady is examining all fatal incidents in Queensland mines and quarries since 2000," Lynham said.


"I have broadened this review. It was originally coal mine incidents only to the end of 2018 but will now include mineral mine and quarry incidents and all fatal incidents this year.


"This review will look at why mine workers have died over the past 20 years, how industry can improve and how the mines inspectorate can work better."


Alongside that the University of Queensland will look at Queensland's mining health and safety legislation to make sure it is relevant to current and emerging mine practice and technology.


This is important.


While fatigue is a constant source of accidents, clearly there are cultural factors emerging brought about by new technology, pressures on maintaining production, and a resultant fear on reporting safety incidents.


Could automation be blurring the lines of responsibility for safety in new mine management systems? Could the pressure on today's miners to multitask be blurring their focus on safety?


Cliff said new technology might mean there were fewer people around to keep an eye on things.


"The people on the mine sites are required to do more and more tasks of different sorts," he said.


Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union district president Stephen Smyth is calling for union inspectors to play a more proactive role along with the Queensland Mines Inspectorate to encourage a greater culture of vigilance among mine operators and their employees.   


Cliff reiterated the need to be eternally vigilant to emerging trends and problems.


"The key to fixing things is to predict the precursor events or situations before they become an accident," he said.


Hogsback reckons the industry needs to take account of the tragic deaths over the past 12 months and be prepared to do whatever it takes to change the culture to ensure that safety is a key element of the future.