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Queensland Mines Inspectorate reports mixed safety performance in 2011-12

10 December 2012

The Queensland Mines Inspectorate Annual Performance Report showed a decrease in the number of deaths on site, dropping from three in FY2010-11 to one in 2011-12. The report also detailed the considerable advisory and support role QMI has provided to New Zealand following the Pike River disaster in 2010.

The Queensland Mines Inspectorate Annual Performance Report showed a decrease in the number of deaths on site, dropping from three in FY2010-11 to one in 2011-12.

In the introduction to the report, the state’s Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health, Stewart Bell, said the mining industry in Queensland continues to expand, with the result that greater numbers of untrained personnel are entering the mining workforce and this could create problems. 

The one fatality was reported for 2011–12 occurred at a quarry near Moranbah and although in number terms this was an improvement on the previous year, some other safety parameters showed a worsening situation.

Across all sectors, Lost-time injuries and disabling injuries rose from 851in 2010–11 to 1,047 in 2011–12 while High-potential incidents (HPIs) rose from 1,960 to 2,370.

The Lost time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) in underground coal mines moved from 4.2 in 2010–11 to 6.8 in 2011–12, a large increase and according to the Inspectorate a cause for concern. LTIFR in other mining areas, with the exception of quarries, also increased by 15–20%. 

The Commissioner said: “It should be noted that these are preliminary numbers and when we have all the data collected there may be some differences. While I acknowledge that these are lag indicators they ring an alarm bell that we cannot ignore. Encouragingly, I can acknowledge reporting of high-potential incidents has increased. This will allow the industry and QMI to learn from these incidents and work to prevent injuries and fatalities.” 

The Queensland Mines Inspectorate focused on several specific areas in 2011–12, according to Bell, including:

Fatigue: “We have put the final touches to our fatigue guidance note and will be taking it to the advisory committees later this year. This process has taken too long and we need to get a guideline out there that will do the job and cover the needs of all parties. The guideline we are proposing has been internationally reviewed and, following some minor modifications, has been given the stamp of approval by the Health and Safety Executive of the United Kingdom.”

Spontaneous combustion: “At time of writing, a Bowen Basin mine was working hard to control a spontaneous combustion event. It’s a timely reminder that spontaneous combustion is still with us and can be a serious problem. All underground coal mines must ensure that they have systems in place to detect spontaneous combustion and also have suitable control mechanisms available to be applied early if required.”

Management of oxides of nitrogen: “The orange cloud containing oxides of nitrogen associated with blasting became an issue in early 2011. The number of people with potential exposure had increased and it was necessary to ensure mines had adequate processes in place to prevent, manage, and treat exposed individuals.”

Maintaining inspectorate numbers: “At the time of writing this report, the QMI strength stood at 45 out of an approved total of 50. The competitive nature of the mining industry means that we are always looking to recruit suitable personnel and conversely we are always losing people back to the industry. This refreshment of the inspectorate is not a bad thing and adds new skills to our team.  

The QMI’s significant achievements for 2011–12 included carrying out 56 audits and 1,573 inspections of mine sites throughout Queensland, conducted 191 investigations of mine accidents and incidents, issued 375 directives and 1,444 substandard condition or practice notices to mines,  conducted seven Level 4 and nine Level 3 compliance meetings with mining companies and published 16 safety alerts, 8 safety bulletins and 1 significant incident report

In the Queensland Mines Inspectorate Annual Performance Report 2011-12, Mines Commissioner Stewart Bell gave an account of the extensive support the QMI has provided the New Zealand government and mine safety bodies following the Pike River coal mine disaster.

“As you may be aware, I have spent a significant part of the last 12 months in New Zealand 
assisting the Pike River Royal Commission. This has been one of the most challenging tasks I 
have ever undertaken. Twenty-nine men never came home on 29 November 2010 and we owe it to them to create an environment where a disaster such as this can never happen again. The report will be presented to the Governor-General of New Zealand on 28 September 2012 (now extended to late-November - Ed) and I hope miners around the world will benefit from the recommendations contained in the report. 

“We further assisted the New Zealand Mines Inspectorate by seconding Gavin Taylor, Chief 
Inspector of Coal Mines, to New Zealand for a period of five months. During that time, Gavin visited mining operations across the whole of the country and provided training and mentoring to the New Zealand Mines Inspectorate. We also became aware that very little auditing was being conducted. 

“John Smith, Senior Inspector of Mines (Mechanical), and Peter Herbert, Senior Inspector of Mines (Electrical), were invited to New Zealand to introduce the methodology of auditing. Their invitation had two advantages: both inspectors are well versed in the QMI’s Safe Guard Auditing System and have training qualifications; and, as New Zealand had no electrical or mechanical inspectors in the mining field, their presence would enable New Zealand mining inspectors to be trained in auditing and permit mechanical and electrical inspection of selected mines.

“The training was exceptionally well received and the New Zealand inspectors took to the system extremely well. Two audits were conducted with Inspectors Smith and Herbert and subsequently another three audits have been conducted to good effect. 

Chief Inspector Taylor’s efforts in New Zealand over five months were highly regarded and 
currently the QMI is in discussion with the Department of Labour for Mr Taylor to act as a 
consultant if additional higher level assistance and regulation is required.”

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