Underground mining makes up 57% of fatalities

THE latest safety statistics for the mining industry for 2000-01 show improvements over the previous year, but little evidence of a sustained improvement trend over the decade, according to the Minerals Council of Australia.

Staff Reporter

The Safety and Health Performance Report of the Australian Minerals Industry which reviews the annual safety performance of the minerals industry, found that the direct cost of injuries and disease in 2000-01 was over $31 million, up 10%.

The 2000-01 report shows the Australian minerals industry recorded 14 fatalities, five fewer than in 1999-2000 but still double 1995-96, the lowest year this decade.

Underground mining (coal and metalliferous) accounted for the highest number of fatalities, or 57%, each with four fatalities. This is an improvement on 77% in 1999-2000 and 70% in 1998-99. The underground metalliferous sector has, on average, accounted for 66% of fatalities in underground mines in the past three years.

Open-cut coal recorded a single fatality this reporting year, matching the preceding two years, while open-cut metalliferous recorded three fatalities – one more than the previous two years.

Rockfalls, roof and rib collapses were involved in seven of the 14 fatalities this year, compared with two fatalities last year. Of those seven fatalities, four occurred in underground coal, accounting for 80% of the fatalities in this sector. The remaining three occurred in the underground metalliferous sector, and accounted for 75% of its fatalities.

Of the 14 fatalities, five were in Western Australia, three each in New South Wales and Tasmania, two in Queensland and one in Victoria.

During the period the Fatal Injury Frequency Rate (FIFR) was 0.07 fatal injuries per one million hours worked, down from 0.09 in 1999-2000.

The underground metalliferous sector has consistently recorded the highest FIFR of any sector, with a ten-year average of 0.26, a reduction of 0.07 from the previous year. In 2000-2001, this sector recorded an FIFR of 0.15 (down from 0.37 in 1999-2000). This is at the lower end of the range compared with previous years, but is still above the lowest FIFR for the sector of 0.10 recorded in 1995-1996.

The underground coal sector continued a four-year trend, increasing from 0.22 in 1999-2000 to 0.23 in 2000-2001. This is above the sector’s ten-year average FIFR of 0.21.

Open-cut coal remained the same as the previous two years with an FIFR of 0.04, which is below the ten-year average of 0.05 and within the relatively low rates seen during the past four years. In general, the open-cut coal sector performance has remained consistent over the decade unlike other sectors that have recorded fluctuating rates.

The declining trend in the number of lost time injuries (LTI) has been a key feature for more than ten years and has continued in 2000-2001. However, the lost time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) has failed to follow the downward trend, remaining at last year’s level.

In 1990-1991, the industry recorded 7,190 lost time injuries. This figure halved by 1997-1998 and has halved again, with 2,200 lost time injuries recorded in 2000-2001. Similarly, in 1991-1992, the industry recorded an LTIFR of 42, which was halved by 1995-1996. In 1999-2000, this rate fell further to 11 and has remained at this rate in 2000-2001.

A comparison of performance in each sector produced results similar to recent years. The LTIFR in the coal sector of 21 is substantially higher than that in other sectors (primarily due to underground coal mining). The metalliferous LTIFR remains at nine, extractive industries records a rate rise to 11 and smelting and refining increases to a rate of six.

Data suggests that the industry LTIFR performance may have reached an asymptote such that future variations may reflect random fluctuation rather than genuine performance improvements or decrements. Of the major mining sectors, only the New South Wales coal sector (with an LTIFR of about 30) has substantial scope for improvement.

International comparisons of Australia’s performance indicated the Australian minerals industry appears to be performing well. For the ten year period ended 2000-01, average FIFR was 0.10. Internationally, this compares well with South Africa, which recorded an average of 0.37 in the period 1989 to 2001, and the United States, with an average FIFR of 0.12 for the period 1992 to September 2001.

In the metalliferous sector, Australia’s average FIFR was 42% below the US average rate of 0.12. There were similar results in the coal sector where Australia performed substantially better than the US, with a rate 54% lower than the US rate of 0.24.

Lost time injury data are difficult to compare internationally because of the different systems and definitions that apply.

The Minerals Council warned that despite improvements in fatality rates this year, there is little evidence of a sustained improvement trend over the decade.

“This emphasises the need for minerals companies and governments to maintain an ongoing focus on fatality prevention,” the report concluded.

While duration and severity rates have increased in most sectors over the previous two years, it is not possible to deduce the exact cause.

“It is important that companies ensure through effective risk management that an adequate focus is given to the potential for high-severity permanently disabling injuries, as is the case with the current focus on fatality prevention,” the report said.