Pilbara manual handling injuries concerns safety regulator

Western Australia’s main resources safety regulator has issued a warning to Pilbara mining operators and workers following a spike in manual handling injuries.

Department of Mines and Petroleum Resources Safety executive director Simon Ridge said there were 171 serious injuries at Pilbara mines in 2012, with 107 of those due to manual handling or overexertion when moving objects onsite.

“Nine of those 107 injuries were effectively responsible for half of the hours lost, which is staggering,” he said in a statement.

Many of the injuries were soft tissue damage in the lower limbs due to uneven ground on the site.

“The fact that majority of these incidents occurred during manual handling activities says that people out there may be underestimating the true severity of soft tissue injuries that can occur through this type of work,” Ridge said.

The DMP said the level of serious injuries in 2012 matched the levels of 2009 in the Pilbara but they were much more severe, meaning workers had to take three time more time off work to recuperate.

“As the Pilbara workforce has significantly grown since 2009, with 52% more hours worked last year compared to three years ago, you would expect to see increases in the actual incident numbers – something that did happen in this case,” Ridge said.

“The sting in the tail with this is that there were 78 more incidents in 2012 than in 2009, which resulted in serious injuries.”

Ridge is encouraging companies to continue providing comprehensive manual handling and safety training to workers. He is also urging workers to use proper lifting techniques and equipment and ask for help when required.

The WA mining industry experienced its first fatality free year in 2012 after more than a century. But Ridge said the sector was lucky considering the number of serious incidents that occurred.

“Some people have been injured very badly and, looking at the figures overall and the nature of some of the incidents, we are lucky there weren’t any deaths last year,” Ridge said.

The DMP led a crackdown on injuries and near misses in the Midwest mining sector last month after two incidents at Karara mine in the last couple of months.

A worker was hit on the face by a tool at the mine on May 25, resulting in mouth fractures, lip lacerations and a broken tooth.

Rio Tinto’s Brockman 2 Mine near Tom Price was the last site with a mining death in WA in August 2011.

This was preceded by three consecutive Pilbara deaths within eight months.

Lost time injury frequency rate per million hours worked has declined by 50 per cent in the last decade in WA.

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