How can resources companies reduce workplace fatalities?

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of the Workplace Health and Safety profession. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Thursday, 25 November, 2021 - 12:30
Industry news
National News

There are four common elements associated with fatalities in Western Australia’s resources sector, according to a new research study from Edith Cowan University (ECU).

The study was based on a questionnaire from Professor Michael Quinlan’s 2014 book, Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster, which outlines common risk factors for catastrophic work incidents.

ECU researchers surveyed more than 2000 mining company employees from 2017-2019 to gain their perceptions of workplace safety and injury risk.

Questionnaire results were then compared to actual workplace fatalities to see if the way people perceived the injury risk at their workplace aligned with the results of the incidents.

The study identified four of Quinlan’s pathways that were regularly associated with WA mining deaths:

•                Pathway 1 (design, engineering, technical and maintenance flaws)

•                Pathway 4 (failures in safety management systems)

•                Pathway 5: (failures in auditing)

•                Pathway 9 (poor management – worker communication and trust)

ECU PhD candidate Tanya Jenke said the study could form as a blueprint for mining companies to ensure their worksites were as safe as possible.

“We aimed to assist the West Australian mining industry in learning from past fatalities and to provide direction for controlling fatality risks in the future,” she said.

“The simplicity of the ten pathways makes them a valuable risk communication tool, and could readily be used to commence discussions, for example at safety meetings, or implemented in a reporting tool to allow companies to learn about safety matters more effectively.

“It could also be used as a self-audit tool or an internal company assessment to benchmark against the findings published in this study.”

In most cases, survey respondents with leadership roles, such as superintendents and managers, scored their organisation’s performance higher than employees in frontline positions.

Jenke said this suggested communication and cultural issues, which could have serious ramifications.

“It highlights potentially dangerous gaps between employee expectations of management – such as prioritising worker safety – and reality,” she said.

“Additionally, those in leadership roles perceived a better worker relationship compared to employees in the front line. Mining organisations need to ensure systems and processes are in place to foster a collaborative and transparent work environment.”

The study also noted significant differences in responses from those based in Perth and workers in other regions of WA, with regional respondents attributing lower scores than their city-based counterparts.

“This possibly indicates a disconnect between operating site and head office,” Jenke said.

“It may illustrate a difference between work as planned by the corporate office, versus work as done by the operations.”

Though the study recommends how mining companies should prioritise safety, Jenke said organisations should address all 10 pathways, as they were developed from fatalities.

While some pathways did not appear in any WA mining fatality reports, she said this was likely due to how incidents were reported.

“We suggest that this may be a result of data on these pathways is not captured as part of the fatality register assessment and that they are contributing to fatalities,” Jenke said.

“Given that four pathways were most prominent in the DMIRS Fatalities Register and the remaining six were not, it is argued the type of information required for reporting does not require an organisation to publicly address all ten pathways.

“It is recommended that reporting include a mechanism for addressing all ten pathways so that other organisations can effectively learn from past fatal incidents.”

‘Fatality risk management: Applying Quinlan’s Ten Pathways in Western Australia’s mining industry’ was published in Safety Science.