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 unacceptable levels for our miners.
Stopping the fatalities
In 2017, the Queensland Government introduced new laws that meant negligent employers and senior executives could be charged with industrial manslaughter and face fines of up to $10 million for businesses and up to 20 years’ jail for individuals, but the mining sector was excluded.
The recent death in January 2020 of a 33-year-old man at a coal mine in central Queensland is the eighth fatality to occur in Queensland mines and quarries in 18 months. Along with renewed heartache, it shows 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), needs to happen urgently. While it will be too little, too late for those already affected, it can make a difference to the culture of these workplaces and those whose future careers remain in them.
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.
"It’s heartbreaking to see so many injured miners or relatives of deceased miners coming through my door to seek legal advice because safety is not coming before production and commercial interests on the list of priorities, which has to change.
"The state government can’t move quickly enough to fulfil its promise to extend industrial manslaughter laws to the resources industry, both to deter mining companies from adopting or permitting unsafe work practices and increase accountability."
Adding to the dangerous culture within the mining industry has been the casualisation of the workforce. As these casual workers can be dismissed at a moment’s notice, relying on them to be the ones to complain about safety is flawed and needs to be addressed.
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 Australia is the highest priority in this industry. 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: January 15, 2020.