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Australian coal industry introduces safety improvement database

08 March 2013

Ongoing issues relating to safety have been flagged up a number of times in recent years. A recent example was when Queensland’s Commissioner for Mine Safety, Stewart Bell, warned of a deterioration in safety standards in the state’s coal mines, saying in his 2012 report:  “We have seen a disturbing rise in dangerous behaviour in underground coal mines”.

In a bid to counter this trend, the Australian Coal Association Research Program (ACARP) has launched RISKGATE, an online information database that has been specifically developed to capture and share knowledge across different coal mining companies about how to manage and control the risks associated with open cut and underground coal mining operations.

The first version of RISKGATE was officially released in December after “two years of solid work” project manager Philipp Kirsch told Australian Mining.

“The database we have developed is the most comprehensive in Australia. There has been input from Australia's six largest coal companies and I am confident it will lead to fewer incidents,” Kirsch said.

RISKGATE will enable companies to access best practice and bring in the latest information when carrying out risk assessments. At the start of the project, the coal industry identified 12 key target areas and this has now expanded to 17 areas of major risk.

These areas include tyres, isolation, collisions, strata control, ground control, fires, explosives, explosions, manual tasks, slips, trips and falls, outbursts, inrush, coal bursts, interface controls and displays, hazardous chemicals and tailings dams.

A recent investment of A$1.3 million takes ACARP’s total RISKGATE investment to $3.5 million.

The companies involved, which include Anglo American and Centennial Coal, have also contributed over four hundred days of individual expert time.

“The companies nominate people to be on the different topic panels and so far we’ve had over four hundred days of company time donated to the project, so that’s a massive investment on the part of the companies,” Kirsch said.

A major benefit of RISKGATE was that the individual company experts benefited considerably from interaction with their peers from other companies.

“They don’t get that opportunity very much, so in the workshop process there was the ability to talk with each other about how they deal with these different risks and there was on the spot learning; I think that was very energising for the participants,” Kirsch said.

The Australian coal industry is facing difficult times, with operating and labour costs rising at a time when exports are being squeezed by the strength of the Australian dollar and increased international competition, and it is to the industry’s credit that RISKGATE is being taken forward against this background.

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