Early detection and prevention a major priority for mine safety

Early detection and prevention are to remain a major focus of Queensland’s mine safety and health regime, says mine safety and health commissioner Kate du Preez.

This comes after the release of Queensland Mines Inspectorate’s (QMI) annual performance report for 2015-16, which has a particular focus on the resurgence of coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, or black lung, in the state.

“The re-emergence of coal workers’ pneumoconiosis has demonstrated why screening for early detection and preventative measures are so important,” du Preez said.

She went on to say the Monash University review into black lung highlighted the importance of early detection and intervention in preventing occupational lung disease.

“It’s vital that this approach and the principle of zero harm is maintained in all areas of safety in our mines,” she said.

QMI analysed more than 10 years of accident and incident data from Queensland coal and metalliferous mine sites and quarries; identifying a number of hazards, common contributing factors, and root causes.

In terms of coal mining, the report identified respirable dust, vehicle interaction, and contractor management as some of the ‘Big 9’ high potential incident categories the inspectorate is focused on to reduce risk. The other hazards included health strategy, management structures – open cut mines, equipment fire, strata management – open cut mines, surface cable incidents, and ERZ coordination and control.

Between 2015-16 QMI had a major focus on dust management, particularly in underground coal mines, with the report finding longwall production had the highest risks of exposure to respirable dust. This area has since become a key focus in QMI’s inspection and compliance regime.

In contrast, the main hazards in metalliferous mining and quarrying include falls, collisions, uncontrolled pressure releases and entanglement, with the Mines Inspectorate aiming to prevent the related injuries through the ‘Fatal Four Hazards’ program.

“Achieving zero harm in mining operations requires a commitment to regularly reviewing safety procedures, employee training improvements, new and better technologies to manage risk, and effective communication at all levels,” du Preez said.

“A focus on hazard identification and control helps to ensure that lessons learnt from incidents and fatalities are not forgotten.”

The report also highlighted the department of natural resources and mines’ plan to push legislative amendments to improve the state’s mine safety.

“Key legislative amendments to improve Queensland’s mining safety and health laws will be progressed as a priority in response to the re-emergence of CWP,” the report said.

“Initial priority regulatory amendments include strengthening respirable dust management requirements for coal mines and prescribing notifiable occupational diseases. Other priorities will enable implementation of the recommendations arising from the independent Monash review to improve the coal mine workers’ health scheme.”

Last month the QLD parliament appointed a six-person Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP) select committee to inquire into black lung’s resurgence in the state, and find ways to prevent it. During the inquiry they will take into consideration a range of factors including current legislative and regulatory schemes, and whether these have been effective over time.

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