Contractors more likely to die on mine sites: report

A report on mining safety in Queensland has shown contractors are more likely to die at work than full-time employees, prompting calls for tighter procedures to be put in place at mine sites.

The Queensland Mines and Quarry Safety Report for 2012-13 found contractors represent nine-out-of-ten coal mining industry fatalities over the past decade.

Queensland Mine Safety and Health Commissioner Stewart Bell said contractors working on mine sites should be afforded the same training, safety procedures and processes as full-time staff, ABC reported.

“By the very nature of their role, contractors are often engaged to perform non-standard or specialist talks that in some cases require a higher level of risk management than would normally be needed,” Bell said.

The commissioner said he was concerned some sites were of the view that the safety of contractors was not management’s problem.

“I’m concerned that some mining operations regard these risks as not their responsibility, whereas in my view they should review and approve the contractor’s processes and procedures before the work begins, and integrate them into the site’s safety and health management system,” he said.

“There are senior managers at these sites whose job is to manage the risk as required by law for everyone who’s working there – and that includes contractors.”

He stressed that while the mining sector remains the largest contributor to Queensland’s economy, and safety has improved dramatically over the last few years, there is still much work to be done.

A number of contractors have been killed at mine sites this year Australia-wide.

In August, Kurt Williams was crushed to death while carrying out maintenance work on a large motor in FMG’s crushing plant.

An Incitec Pivot contractor was fatally injured near Xstrata's Mount Isa Mines copper smelter while a Saxon Energy worker died at Rig 185 at the Fairview Santos GLNG operation site.

Bell put the onus back on the industry saying “we all have a role to play to achieve zero harm”.

"We've been pushing that message out to the mining industry that contractors are mine workers – just like everyone else there," he said.

Bell said that while Queensland had one of the best safety records in the world, there was no room for complacency.

"We can't become apathetic because every time we're hurting somebody – that's somebody who's not coming home to his family in the same condition he left for work.

"Every time we kill somebody, well, he's not going home at all and his wife and his children and his mother and his father are all permanently affected."

In the 12 months to June 30 this year there were two deaths in Queensland's mining industry, both of which occurred at surface metalliferous mines, however the report found that overall there had been a reduction in the number of injuries and reduced lost time due to accidents.

Lost time injuries and disabling injuries experienced by workers fell from 1182 in 2011-12 to 947 in 2012-13 while at the same time the severity rate for these injuries dropped from 302 million hours to 222 over the 12 months.

While the reporting of high potential incidents by industry operators also rose, up from 2390 reported in 2011-12 to 2406 during 2012-13.

Bell saw the increase in reporting as a positive sign, stating it enables the QMI to make improvements.

The Queensland Government is aiming to improve the effectiveness of its mine safety and health regime.

In early September the government put forward mine safety improvements, asking for industry feedback.

Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps said safety is the government’s top priority for the sector.

“Ensuring Queensland mine workers return home safely after each shift is of paramount importance to the Newman Government and to my Department,” Cripps said.

The list of changes includes ramping up the number of coal industry safety and health representatives from three to four, clarifying the role of such representatives, and requiring all operations to have a single safety and health management system that covers both company employees and contractors.

The framework also includes changes that would see key safety positions at mine sites to become statutory roles with a Board of Examiners competency certificate required.

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