Mining Report: Safety is paramount in Western Australian mining

Materials World magazine
29 Oct 2019

Policies in Australia’s largest state aim to minimise personal risk in its mining operations.

Western Australia’s (WA) mining industry is massive – it is no surprise that under its sheer scale of operation, accidents would at some time occur. This year, a fatality has been recorded in the state, when a haul truck driver’s vehicle fell from the haul road into the pit.

But the state’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety alongside mining equipment supplier, Boart Longyear, are striving to ensure that mining is conducted to the safest standards.

State view

‘The department works to secure the safety and health of employees throughout the WA resources sector. This includes mining and exploration safety, petroleum safety and dangerous goods safety,’ WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) Director Mines Safety, Andrew Chaplyn, told Materials World.

‘DMIRS’s head office is located in Perth, with regional offices in Kalgoorlie, Collie and Karratha. The department has articulated its current vision through the Towards 2020 regulatory strategy, a three-year rolling plan that supports world-leading regulation, smarter systems and well-informed industry.’

The body interacts with the mining industry to achieve safety compliance in two main ways, namely by a combination of raising awareness of safety and health matters and by seeking compliance with legislation through processes such as inspections and auditing. While the WA resources sector is diverse, the DMIRS’ comprehensive mine safety strategy is broad in nature and covers all aspects of the mining industry.

Remoteness challenges

Given its size and relatively low population density, WA can present unique challenges and hazards in the mining context. Irrespective of the type of hazard, DMIRS manages risks using a hierarchy of hazard control system. The underlying rationale is that more reliable control measures such as hazard-elimination are encouraged, compared to those that are more likely to fail such as relying purely on personal protective equipment. For WA, selection of the most appropriate control involves balancing the cost of implementing each option against the benefits derived from it and the costs associated with an unwanted event.

Chaplyn told Materials World that mining operators, including those situated in remote areas where distance may provide an added challenge, have duty-of-care obligations to ensure injured workers receive the necessary medical treatment to sustain life until they can be transported to an appropriate medical facility. Mining operators are required to have the appropriate emergency management systems and facilities in place to cater for credible emergency scenarios, as determined via a risk management process.

‘DMIRS works with the state government to promote its commitment to worker safety. This is achieved via various avenues, including mine safety roadshows, forums and awards. The department’s mines inspectors also reinforce this safety message during their regular site assessments,’ he said.

Technology and legislation

Advances in technology, such as the use of drones, automation and artificial intelligence, continue to provide opportunities and challenges to WA’s mine safety environment. WA’s workplace health and safety legislation, including the mining sector, is currently being reviewed to develop a single harmonised and amalgamated Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act. The state government’s vision goes beyond mining to include separate regulation packages for general industry and the petroleum sector.

‘While WA has an outstanding safety record, DMIRS continues to work hard to improve safety outcomes. Recent success include Australia’s first code of practice to help promote and maintain mentally healthy workplaces for fly-in fly-out (FIFO) workers, and the world’s first code of practice for safe autonomous mining,’ Chaplyn said.

One final aspect is small-scale artisanal mining such as prospecting and fossicking for minerals, where fossicking is searching for minerals in abandoned mines. Both are common in WA, and DMIRS regulates these activities.

Safety policies

Established in 1890, USA-based Boart Longyear provides drilling services and equipment for mining and drilling companies, as well as aftermarket services such as mine de-watering and down-hole instrumentation.

Boart Longyear reported it had achieved a global accomplishment of more than 10 million consecutive man hours worked with no lost time injuries (LTI) and one year completely lost time injury-free as of 5 July 2019. The company employs approximately 4,900 personnel including supervisors, drillers, driller assistants, mechanics, technicians, welders, manufacturing plant personnel, distribution centres and warehouse personnel, plus support staff that are clearly committed to working safely every day. In 2018, the company-wide lost time injury rate matched an all-time low at 0.10, the lowest number of lost time injuries on record.

Boart Longyear Global Systems Manager – Environmental Health Safety & Technology, Ben Redd, explained how the company enhances its safety record in the article, A method for improving safety in the drilling sector in Safe To Work in October 2018.

Redd stressed the urgent need to communicate ‘regrettable moments’ so that others can avoid incidents of this nature. Indeed, while equipment manufacturers continually strive for increased productivity and safety, there is always the human involvement, whether in the need for supervision, interaction or up-to-date knowledge.

‘We would all like to think we have it all figured out, but the reality is there is always something new to learn,’ Redd said, and added that even then, people can lapse into previous practices and behaviour.

Boart Longyear Environmental Health and Safety team (E&HS) emphasises an incident-management database system to track, report and promote a conscientious safe working environment even if it is not the first company to do so. What it stresses is that such a system reduces risk, ‘by helping people learn and change so people will practise safer behaviours and proactively address hazards before they result in an injury’.

Employees are trained to report any incident big or small, with designated workers entering every incident, near miss or management interaction incident-management database system. And Boart Longyear never disregards these incidents. They include:

  • A gas cap missing from a vehicle is typed into the system
  • A deer running in front of the truck – even without contact, it is entered as a near miss
  • An employee who uses a wrench and bruises an elbow is entered into the system, and
  • Even when a driller feels dehydrated and is required by his manager to go drink more water, it is reported and entered in the system.

Daily incident records are then emailed globally within the company, with employees reviewing the reports and learning of potential hazards, which they can then guard against. New upgrades to the system feature a mobile app version for ease of use including entering data, tracking incidents, near misses, and management interactions. Information can be completed 100% in the app, with or without an internet connection.

Redd said incident management systems require time and money to train on, implement and use. However, that cost is small in comparison to saving a life and protecting investments. In the long run, safety and incident management systems increase productivity and keep operations running successfully.

Industry and government

WA has long been respected for its achievements in mining. The combination of a governmental authority and an equipment sector are ensuring that this vast province does not suffer in terms of safety because of its sheer size. Prudent management and a focus on wellbeing are helping drive efficiencies in the industry and reduce risk to personnel.