Tasmania needs more mines inspectors

A mining safety expert has told Worksafe that deaths in three Tasmanian mines could have been prevented if safety warnings were followed.

Professor Michael Quinlan addressed a Worksafe seminar in Launceston today, and said that in the cases of five deaths due to rockfall at Beaconsfield, Renison and Cornwall mines, there were risk factors that were ignored.

In July this year Quinlan was the author of an independent audit into Tasmania’s mines safety regulations, which found critical deficiencies and recommended an urgent review.

The audit had been commissioned prior to the deaths of three workers at the Mt Lyell mine, in December 2013 and January 2014.

Quinlan is a professor in the School of Management at the University of New South Wales Business School, who is also director of the Industrial Relations Research Centre.

He said patterns of events, which have led to mining deaths in Tasmania and other workplaces, exhibit similarities, and that such patterns can be recognised and stopped before a death occurs.

“There were warning signals that should have been responded to, and there was inadequate risk assessment, particularly at Cornwall Colliery, and concerns that had been expressed had not been addressed,” he said.

According to Quinlan, common patterns included design and maintenance flaws, ignoring warning signs and worker concerns, economic pressures, and poor regulatory oversight.

The seminar heard that Worksafe Tasmania had finished the investigation into the deaths of workers at Mt Lyell mine in December 2013, however the findings are yet to be released.

The investigation into the January death, caused by mudrush at Mr Lyell, is ongoing.

Professor Quinlan said Tasmanian mines inspectors were overstretched, poorly paid, and that the mining inspectorate’s funding was inadequate.

The professor’s report found that there was only one full time inspector to carry out regular inspections, despite recommendations after the 2006 Beaconsfield disaster that the inspectorate employ six inspectors.

It was also found that there was no-one qualified for coal mine safety inspections.

Quinlan’s report suggested that mining companies bear the cost of employing another inspector, as well as bringing in a qualified coal mine inspector every six months.

Image: AMSJ