“Dramatic” changes to mine safety

 Miners throughout New South Wales have been recognised for their innovation and commitment to safety by the state’s leading resource body.

Newcrest Mining received the People’s Choice award for its new mechanical hammer guide that eliminates the risk of injury to workers by replacing a manual task with a mechanical solution.

BHP Billiton took our the Highly Commended in the Health category for its commitment to lowering occupational health exposure risk with a new testing regime for standard personal protective equipment to ensure it fits individual users.

NSW Minerals Council chief executive Nikki Williams said the surge of innovation in safety throughout the state’s mining industry is working closer towards the goal of zero harm.

“These winners are not just tweaking old ideas or adapting existing technologies, they have proven themselves to be true innovators and have shown again why NSW miners are world class,” Williams said.

“The ideas that have been on show required thinking ‘outside the square’.

“The end result is tools, applications and techniques that have the potential to be shared across the industry and the community.

“Our awards aim to encourage miners to identify areas where health and safety can be improved and then develop and road test unique solutions that can be adopted at other operations.

The annual awards are part of the biggest Occupational Health and Safety conference in the state, run by the Minerals Council.

Centennial Coal was nominated for two categories in this year’s awards, and took out the Highly Commended honors for new developments at its Angus Place Colliery with a new drill design that removes workers from a high-risk working zone in longwall mining.

Centennial’s chief operating officer Steve Bracken told Australian Mining at the conference in the Hunter Valley this morning the company is always working towards better safety and even has its own internal innovation conference.

“We encourage our sites to take part and submit entries into the competition and we have won outright for the last two years for our site, so we had two finalists this year, which is good.”

“Your license to operate is at risk if you don’t manage the industry and the risk associated with the industry.”

“It is an area we’re always focused on.”

“You can never sit back and rest on your laurels, it’s something we always have a great focus on.”

Bracken said the goal of zero harm throughout the industry is achievable if it is continually worked on.

“The industry has its inherit risks, but we put a lot of effort into developing good management plans for identifying those risks and managing them effectively,” he told Australian Mining.

“Zero harm doesn’t mean just safety, it’s about the environmental impact as well.”

Bracken told Australia Mining he has been in the mining industry for about forty years and in that time he has seen the attitude towards safety undergo major transformations.

“It has changed dramatically.

“During the seventies, there was periods of time there where the fatality rate was a lot higher, as well as the injury rate, the lost time injury rate.

“Now, every company is absolutely focused on the absolute obligation not to have an industry that accepts that kind of thing.

“We’re a much more mature and sophisticated industry in terms of risk management.”

He said the mining industry is under more pressure, as the attitude towards coal mining from society has also changed dramatically.

“The communities where we operate were traditionally mining communities.

“And a lot of the things that go on were just part of the community.
“These days I think we’re under much more scrutiny.”

“Expectations have certainly increased.

"I think they’re increasing all the time and it’s putting a lot of pressure on mining companies.”

“Some elements of society are against mining regardless and don’t understand why we do things but it’s just something we have to continually work on, is educating communities so they understand what we’re really all about.”

Since the announcement of the carbon tax, experts have predicted multiple New South Wales coal mines will close within three years.

Bracken said while doesn’t like the tax, it may just be another stumbling block the company has to work through.

“For us within centennial, it certainly going to have an impact on us and we’re working through that,” he said.

“We have the trifecta of disadvantage in that we have underground thermal mines that are moderate gas levels and we’re supplying to a lot of long term, fixed price domestic contracts.

“People quote numbers of very high prices of coking coal out of central Queensland, but we operate in areas where we don’t get that advantage at all, so it is going to put a lot of pressure on us.”

“There’s a lot of media reporting that coal prices have risen to $300 a tonne, well it just doesn’t happen in this part of the world.

“The Prime Minister continually quotes that number and it’s just not right.”

Image: Flickr

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