New figures show West Australian mine workers are being seriously injured on the job at a rate of more than one a day — a damning statistic after companies were warned about fatigue management during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
- 477 mines varying in size and commodity operated in WA during 2019-20
- At the peak of the boom, the sector had 107,335 workers in 2013–14 — it has grown to 132,144
- About 51 per cent of the workforce is employed in iron ore; 23 per cent in gold
As the resources sector continues to carry the state’s economy on the back of booming iron ore and gold prices, the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) on Friday released its 2019-20 report on safety performance.
The most heart-wrenching fact contained in the 56-page report was the two fatalities recorded in the 12 months to June 30 last year.
Truck driver Ricky Hanson, 57, died at the Nova nickel-copper mine in the Goldfields in September 2019 when the mechanism used to open and close a tarpaulin cover on a road-train trailer failed.
Howard Prosser, 64, died in January last year at the Roy Hill iron ore mine in the Pilbara after being crushed between a telehandler and a fence while trying to regain control of the machine.
The DMIRS report shows WA’s mining workforce has more than tripled since 1997-98 — when there were 13 deaths — from 43,466 workers to 132,144 in 2019-20.
The bulk of those workers (121,088) are employed in surface jobs.
There are 11,056 underground miners in WA, while 3,584 workers are employed in the exploration industry.
Slight increase in ‘serious’ injuries
Last financial year, DMIRS recorded 429 lost-time injuries (LTIs), up from 425 in 2018-19.
The total number of days workers were off injured was 10,568, while workers had a further 13,126 days on restricted duties once they returned.
There were 378 incidents classified as “serious”, which is an injury that disables a worker for two weeks or more.
Of these, 339 occurred on the surface and 39 in underground mines.
State mining engineer Andrew Chaplyn said 87 of the serious injuries reported involved either an amputation, fracture or crush injury.
Examples of “serious” incidents included:
- An electrician suffered burns to his right hand and wrist after an explosion caused by an arc flash
- A worker suffered head and shoulder injuries in a light vehicle crash, losing control on a bend after exiting an underground mine, mounting a windrow and rolling a number of times
- A heavy-duty fitter fell from a 1.2m-high mobile work platform and struck his head on a concrete floor while removing the catwalk of a dozer
- The operator of a loader being driven with a full bucket received a fractured back after being jolted in the cabin when a large rock dislodged and was run over by the loader
- A worker received thermal and chemical burns to an ankle and wrists when they slipped into hot caustic slurry that had overflowed onto a pad at a processing plant
- An underground drill operator suffered a partial amputation while changing the hinge pin on the drill head of a diamond drill
- A boilermaker received facial burns when leaking LPG entered their welding helmet and ignited
- A drilling offsider was rendered unconscious and received neck injuries when struck on the head by the base of the cyclone on a drill rig at an exploration site
- An open pit worker suffered a collapsed lung and fractured ribs after falling from a work platform while moving empty ammonium nitrate bulk bags
Engineer praises industry’s ‘resolve’
In April last year, Northern Star Resources executive chairman Bill Beament warned the mining industry had to be on “red alert” for fatigue and mental health issues among workers after the introduction of longer rosters.
The rosters were designed to limit exposure during the coronavirus outbreak, and although most of the industry has returned to normal work practices, they were in place during the DMIRS reporting period.
Mr Chaplyn said the industry had responded well to the challenges presented by the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic impacted all parts of our lives and mining operations were no exception,” he wrote in the report.
“It was pleasing to see mines working closely with the regulator and other key stakeholders to put in place comprehensive management plans to implement key controls to manage this significant risk.
“The pandemic presented many challenges and paused several of the department’s traditional safety events, however DMIRS continued to work with stakeholders to deliver key safety messaging and, importantly, companies worked together to secure critical services and supplies such as PPE to achieve safer outcomes.”