Qld safety council rejected while state experiences eighth fatality

THE Queensland government may be forced to re-visit a key recommendation made by its independently led Project Management Office to form a ministerial advisory council on mine safety that was rejected in the new Queensland mine safety bill being championed by mines minister Dr Anthony Lynham.
Qld safety council rejected while state experiences eighth fatality  Qld safety council rejected while state experiences eighth fatality  Qld safety council rejected while state experiences eighth fatality  Qld safety council rejected while state experiences eighth fatality  Qld safety council rejected while state experiences eighth fatality

Queensland Parliament House in Brisbane.

The Queensland mining industry suffered its eighth mine-related fatality in two years over the weekend when 33-year Thiess contract worker tragically died at Coronado's Curragh mine after becoming entangled with machinery. Five of those fatalities were in the past year alone.

The Resources Safety and Health Queensland Bill 2019 - which was introduced by Lynham in parliament last year in response to the spate of mine site deaths in the state - does not follow up on key recommendations for a council because it would be too hard to find enough people to sit on the council.

The PMO was established by the Queensland government to examine and develop the implementation of key recommendations of the Coal Workers' Pneumoconiosis select committee.

Following extensive consultation with stakeholders, the PMO completed its work program and finalised a report - Queensland resources safety and health regulator and funding models.

The PMO recommended establishing an advisory council to provide advice to the minister on the performance of the regulator, develop a five-year strategic plan to identify priority safety and health issues and establish action plans to address these, and create a mechanism to identify and prioritise critical safety and health risks.

Surprisingly this key recommendation was rejected after consultation with the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy.

Stakeholders favoured retaining the existing advisory committee structures with an increased strategic focus, according to the explanatory notes to the Resources Safety and Health Queensland Bill 2019.

"Stakeholders noted in particular the challenges of ensuring adequate representation on an advisory council and expressed satisfaction with current arrangements," the notes state.

Targeted consultation on the draft Bill also occurred with industry and union stakeholders in July and August.

While the Queensland Mines Inspectorate is still investigating the Curragh incident, the industry's much touted reset and reform of safety legislation may not go far enough to prevent mine accidents.     

Acting mines minister Mark Ryan told Australia's Mining Monthly that his thoughts were with the family, friends and colleagues of the mine worker.

"Mines inspectors are currently onsite at Curragh investigating," he said.

"I do not want to make any comment about this particular incident, both out of respect for everyone affected, and in light of the independent investigation.

"Any death in our resources workplaces is unacceptable, and this government is committed to working with employers, unions and peak bodies to continue to improve protections for our workers.

"This Labor government has already extensively reformed mine safety and health over the past five years, and Queensland now has the toughest mine safety and health laws in the world. And there is further reform to come.

"We have reformed detection and prevention of black lung, and improved the safety net for affected workers.

"We have increased maximum penalties and given the regulator powers to issue fines without going to court.

"We have worked with industry, companies and unions to have mine and quarry workers across the state attend safety reset sessions to refocus on health and safety.

"We will introduce legislation this year to make industrial manslaughter an offence, as it is in other Queensland workplaces, and we have legislation before the Parliament to establish an independent resources health and safety authority."

Ryan said two independent reviews would also be tabled in parliament.

"The government will take advice on further action from these reviews from its advisory committees and the independent Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health," he said.

Lynham said in December that Queensland was introducing the most comprehensive health and safety reforms ever seen in the mining industry, including $35 million commitment to deliver changes to improve the safety and health of mine workers; a commitment to tighter controls on mine dust levels; $1.21 million in funding for a Mobile Health Screening Van to improve black lung and silicosis screening; and worksite safety reset sessions of mine and quarry workers and employers statewide.

The Queensland government sought bids in November for expert providers to deliver a health service-on-wheels that provides medical checks to coal mine workers in regional Queensland.

Lynham said the mobile unit should be equipped, staffed and on the road in regional communities by late this year.

"It remains crucial that any worker with concerns see their GP and for everyone to use the free respiratory health checks now available to current and past Queensland coal mine workers," he said.

Last year's budget provided $1.21 million over two years for the mobile screening service, which will help improve the detection of coal workers' pneumoconiosis [black lung], including silicosis and other mine dust lung diseases.

This comes on top of nearly $25 million committed in 2017 to black lung health and safety changes.

The industry and mining union yesterday both expressed shock and sadness that the fatality should occur so early in the year.