Why the coal mining skills shortage and safety performance are linked

HOGSBACK reckons the Queensland coal mining industry is continuing to suffer the fallout of a skills shortage at all levels – from a dump truck operator all the way to the coal mines inspectorate.
Why the coal mining skills shortage and safety performance are linked Why the coal mining skills shortage and safety performance are linked Why the coal mining skills shortage and safety performance are linked Why the coal mining skills shortage and safety performance are linked Why the coal mining skills shortage and safety performance are linked

While it is commendable that groups like the Queensland Resources Council are cooperating with BHP and other companies to encourage more young people into mining related trades and facilitate women and indigenous students to join the industry, more needs to be done to ensure there are skilled and experienced operators at all levels of coal mining operations and the relevant regulators.

The Queensland mine safety Board of Inquiry in Brisbane has heard that there is a problem retaining inspectors because the pay rates on offer are not comparable with those paid by the industry for people of their experience. 

Queensland chief inspector Peter Newman said he had problems recruiting inspectors and even at the most senior level there had been five chief inspectors in the past 10 years.

Because of the difference in pay rates between the inspectorate and the industry, inspectors inevitably drift back to the industry after gaining some experience with the regulator.

Newman noted there were now fewer candidates with the appropriate certification to be mines inspectors.

The relative shortage of appropriate skills and certification at a senior level is one reason mining companies are prepared to pay such high wages for mines personnel.

There is no way the inspectorate can compete with mining companies on the salary front so the best it can hope for is two or three years of an experienced mine manager before retirement or in between positions.   

The pressure on inspectorates to maintain safety levels at coal mines in their jurisdiction is therefore a symptom of the underlying shortage of skilled mining personnel that continues to dog the industry at all levels.

While it is good that experienced mining personnel can command high salaries and be among the best paid professionals in the country, this is unsustainable in the long run.

Australian universities and industry groups need to encourage more young people to pursue careers in mining engineering as a first step.

However, to alleviate the skills shortage at a more senior level, the industry must be prepared to seek experienced personnel globally.

Hogsback reckons this should be done urgently to ensure the coal mining industry and the regulators can keep operating at a world class standard.