Mining safety digs deep

SAFETY improvements in New South Wales mines will be tackled under the Digging Deeper Action Plan, with a focus on fatigue, hours worked and contractor safety.
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Angie Tomlinson

The action plan was developed by the Mine Safety Advisory Council (MSAC) in response to recommendations of the Digging Deeper project, which was in turn put together by a consortium led by Shaw Idea to address a number of recommendations made by the 2005 Wran Mine Safety Review.

Digging Deeper assessed the impact on occupational health and safety performance of production bonus payments and safety-based incentive schemes, fatigue management and working hours in the mining industry, and OHS management systems and consultation.

“Never before has so much detailed and credible information been obtained from all sections of the NSW mining industry,” MSAC said.

“The extensive knowledge gathered from this process provides a clear picture of how work is structured and how systems are implemented in the NSW mining industry.

“It also provides an insight into how relationships can be built that improve management and performance in the industry."

The findings of the Digging Deeper project included:

  • Hours of work in the NSW mining industry are high (average 49.8 per week) and far in excess of the hours worked in the mining industry on average around Australia (average 44.7 per week);
  • Contractors were found to work more hours than direct employees;
  • Production bonus and safety incentive schemes that involved payment in exchange for achieving particular outcome targets did not consistently or reliably improve safety outcomes. In some instances these schemes created negative effects;
  • Few sites sampled during the project provided evidence of systematic risk assessments of fatigue. Roster arrangements also did not effectively control the fatigue risks associated with extended hours and shiftwork;
  • All sites were found to have some degree of a formal OHS management system. Proactive sites were adequately resourced, displayed trust in management, felt supported by supervisors and there was organisational justice;
  • Contractors and night shift workers were identified as not being included in consultation processes;
  • Reactive and transitional sites failed to close the loop between intention and action on site thus fostering a disconnect between workers and the OHS management system; and
  • Reactive and transitional sites did not always receive competent advice while management appeared to be driven by legal obligation and insurance rather than improving health and safety culture (for example, pressure to reduce LTIFR, or lost time injury frequency rate, unintentionally resulted in reduced reporting).

“This project highlighted what is really happening in the industry; and addressing its recommendations will allow measures to be developed to improve industry health and safety for the state’s miners,” said Minister for Mineral Resources Ian Macdonald.

“Practical improvements can now be made in important areas like fatigue management and working hours through high-level commitment from government agencies, industry and unions.”

The MSAC's action plan will address the key recommendations. One of the major benefits to industry from the plan, according to MSAC, is the introduction of educative assistance programs designed to help the NSW mining industry become more proactive and achieve best practice in mine safety.

The programs will also assist in closing the loop between intention and action when implementing safety management plans, MSAC said.

The programs will be implemented by MSAC, the NSW Department of Primary Industries and industry stakeholders.

The Digging Deeper Action Plan has a strong focus on fatigue and will facilitate the development of a fatigue management standard and a fatigue risk management education and improvement strategy.

“This is an emerging safety issue with serious ramifications for the mining industry," MSAC said.

The action plan will also further examine the Digging Deeper project’s preliminary findings on safety incentive schemes and production bonuses, with industry stakeholders to review the ability of these schemes to improve occupational health and safety over time.

MSAC is encouraging industry to reassess any such programs currently in use.

Digging Deeper also highlighted a need for the NSW mining industry to get the basics of occupational health and safety management right. To address this, MSAC endorsed the Digging Deeper report’s call to action for industry – the 10 Platinum Rules:

1.Remember you are working with people;

2.Listen to and talk with your people;

3.Fix things promptly;

4.Make sure your paperwork is worth having;

5.Improve competence in OHS;

6.Encourage people to give you bad news;

7.Fix your workplace first;

8.Measure and monitor risks that people are exposed to;

9.Keep checking that what you are doing is working effectively; and

10.Apply adequate resources in time and money.

The Digging Deeper project and its 25 recommendations can be found at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/minerals/safety/consultation/wran-consultancy-project and MSAC's Digging Deeper action plan can be found at www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/minerals/safety/consultation/digging-deeper

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