The new mining crisis [opinion]

The budget has been and gone and what it laid out for mining surprised no one.

Exploration incentives, the cutting of red and green tape, not removing the Diesel Fuel Tax Rebate Scheme, all were proffered to the mining and resources industry.

And coupled with the current government promise to abolish the Mineral Resources Rent Tax, it was a win for the industry.

Apparent crisis averted.

However there is another crisis arising in the industry, and it has been building over the last six months.

Starting in December last year we saw a rash of fatalities.

The month saw four deaths in as many weeks.

A series of terrible accidents to round out the year, but there was the hope that we could start 2014 afresh, look at the mistakes that led to these incidents, rectify them, and make the industry safer.

Apparently not.

Because the rate of fatal incidents has not slackened.

As we went to print there have been nine deaths (ten if we include a worker passing away in his sleep at Tropicana's camp).

That is 14 deaths in less than six months.

And these incidents have been spread right across the country.

So the question must be asked – what is going wrong in the industry?

How, at the height of the boom in 2011/12 did we see fewer deaths than now, in what could be called a downturn or at the very least a slow-down.

If they were predominately in one state or site (and to be fair, three of them were at a single mine site in Tasmania), then we could easily identify the issue; identify what that particular operation is doing wrong, and solve it.

But with such a varied range of incidents at multiple, unrelated sites across Australia there is very little common ground to build a case upon.

Instead we are just left asking more questions – over whether it is an issue of industry culture; a symptom of the downturn; a number of lapses in safety; or a lack in training.

There needs to be a serious refocusing on safety on mine sites.

Whether it is drilling down on safety procedures, operations, or the day to day of mining.

Potential accidents and near misses should be a wake-up call to miners, not a joke.

We can't let this rate of deaths continue.

There is a crisis in mining, and something needs to be done before it escalates. 

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