The majority of workplace fatalities which occurred in Queensland’s mining industry over the past two decades were usually a combination of failure of controls, a lack of training, and absent or inadequate supervision, according to a recent report.
Authored by the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy’s Dr Sean Brady, the report presents a detailed analysis of the fatalities, serious accidents and high potential incidents that have occurred in the Queensland mining and quarrying industries over the past 20 years.
Brady made 11 recommendations in the report – the first of which noted that the mining industry should recognise that it has a fatality cycle.
“Unless it makes significant changes to how it operates, the rate of fatalities is likely to continue at current levels,” the report said.
This pattern has been evident over the past 19.5 years and is characterised by periods where a significant number of fatalities occur, followed by periods where there are few to none.
“This suggests that the industry goes through periods of increasing and decreasing vigilance,” the report said.
“Past behaviour suggests that in the order of 12 fatalities are likely to occur over any five-year period.
“If the industry continues to take a similar approach to safety, using the same philosophies and methodologies adopted over the past 19.5 years, then similar safety outcomes are to be
The cycle further suggests that the periods with few to no fatalities should be viewed as simply part of the fatality cycle – they are not evidence of the industry becoming safer over the long term.
Instead, the report said further fatalities should be expected as the cycle continues.
“This may appear a bleak prediction, but this cycle has proven surprisingly resilient over the past 19.5 years.
“The 6 fatalities that occurred between July 2018 and July 2019 have been described by some in the industry, media and politics as evidence of an industry in crisis, but a bleaker assessment is that this is an industry resetting itself to its normal fatality rate,” the report said.
One of the biggest potential stumbling blocks to reducing the number of fatalities is how the mining industry views itself, according to the report.
“Mining is a hazardous industry, but that doesn’t mean that workers and their families must continue to suffer the consequences of these hazards.”
An illustrative comparison can be made with the airline industry – the general public expect air travel to be safe, despite it having to cope with significant hazards.
By contrast, the report said that both the mining industry and the general public appear to expect mining to be dangerous.
“This fatalism may be the biggest stumbling block to preventing the industry taking the next step,” the report said.