The mining and resource sectors have given a huge amount to the Australian economy and way of life. Unfortunately, mining still has one of the highest rates of fatalities and serious injuries for its workers. Despite making significant improvements and changes to mining safety in Australia, the rates of fatalities and serious injury are still at dangerous levels for our miners.
What Queensland's new mine safety laws mean
With the aim of changing the culture and safety record, industrial manslaughter laws have been introduced into the resources sector in Queensland that could see executives jailed for up to 20 years if they are found to have been criminally negligent. The legislative change and greater ability to prosecute mining companies is in response to the series of unacceptable mining fatalities and is designed to curb negligent behaviour.
The legislation that will come into effect in July 2020, requires roles such as senior executives, ventilation officers and underground or surface mine managers to be filled by employees of mine operators and prevent operators using contractors in these roles in a veiled attempt to shield themselves from responsibility. The mining sector had previously been excluded from the 2017 update to the Queensland Government's safety laws that held other sectors accountable in this way.
Shine Lawyers’ Special Counsel Craig Oliver says: "While 20 years imprisonment for individuals – and fines of up to $10 million for companies – seem significant, the hope is these measures never have to be relied upon and our people enjoy safer workplaces as a result. The aim is not to imprison or fine, but rather to see people return from work to their families."
Why prioritising mining safety in Australia is so crucial
The recent death in January 2020 of a 33-year-old man at a coal mine in central Queensland was the eighth fatality to occur in Queensland mines and quarries in 18 months. Along with renewed heartache, it showed why this industrial manslaughter legislation, along with an independent health and safety authority for the resources sector (previously announced by the Mines Minister following recent media attention), will be so important when it comes into effect. While it may be too little too late for those already affected, the hope is that the resultant change in the culture of these workplaces means those whose future careers remain in them don’t have to experience such heartache.
Shine Lawyers’ Special Counsel Craig Oliver says: "I was saddened to hear of yet another mining death, this time of a worker at the Curragh coal mine in central Queensland. Mines and quarries are still among the most dangerous places to work in the Sunshine State and that's not good enough."
More to protect our miners
Between 2013-14 and 2018-19, there were 475 serious accidents in Queensland mines, including 110 last financial year, which shows how important ongoing scrutiny of workplace health and safety is.
In 2019, a safety “reset” for all Queensland mines and quarries was undertaken that saw thousands of employees receive special mining safety training. An independent review into coal mining deaths was also widened to include other types of mines and quarries as part of the Queensland Government reaction in the wake of the eight fatalities, but the results are yet to be released.
What risks do miners face?
A national approach is needed to ensure mining safety in Australia is the highest priority in this industry and not always playing second fiddle to production. Production requires people to return and perform their roles the next day as well. The main inherent risks associated with working in the mining industry include:
- body stressing, manual handling and musculoskeletal disorders
- slips, trips and falls
- being hit by moving objects or machinery
According to WorkCover Queensland, just 84% of miners who sustain a musculoskeletal injury return to work. This leaves a lot of miners facing an uncertain future if they lose their livelihood with 39% of all workers compensation claims due to muscular stress.
Continued improvements in procedures and checks are the only way forward to ensuring our miners stay safe on the job and can return to their families.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: May 22, 2020.