Important safety, environmental, political and personal stories in book on the Morwell Mine fire

Dr Tom Doig has continued to build on his earlier work about the Morwell mine fire, expanding his “The Coal Face” from 2015 into his new book “Hazelwood” (after court-related injunctions, now available on 18 June 2020).

SPECIAL OFFER: The first four (4) new Annual subscribers in the month of June 2020 will receive a copy of Hazelwood.

The Morwell mine fire created great distress to residents in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, ongoing health problems, and a parliamentary inquiry, but can also be seen as a major case study of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws, enforcement, role and the obligation on employers to provide a safe and healthy working environment that does not provide risks to workers and “protect other people from risks arising from employer’s business”.  The management of worker and public safety is present in almost every decision made in relation to the Morwell Mine fire. The overlay of an OHS perspective to Doig’s book is enlightening.

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The Brady Report busts myths and offers a new way

A bombshell occupational health and safety report was tabled in the Queensland Parliament on February 6, 2020. Dr Sean Brady of the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy undertook a forensic assessment of mining fatalities occurring over almost 20 years and has made recommendations that busts some mine safety myths and offers a, potentially very disruptive, way forward.

Brady issued 11 recommendations with many of them hitting the OHS regime of mining companies and safety regulators hard. As the report is over 300 pages, this article is based largely on the Executive Summary.

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Industrial Manslaughter exemption for mining looks over

Many advocates see the introduction of Industrial Manslaughter laws as a glorious moment that will change the world for the better, in other words, a silver bullet. But if it is a silver bullet, it is being shot into the political murk. Queensland’s expansion of its Industrial Manslaughter laws to the mining and resources industries was presented to Parliament on February 4, 2020, and is likely to pass with the support of those industries.

Occupational health and safety (OHS) laws should apply to businesses and workers without exception. Queensland’s exemption of the mining and resources sector from Industrial Manslaughter laws was always a nonsense but that nonsense made good political sense in an election year.

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2020 OHS plans for Queensland mines

Open cut rock quarry on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. Source: zstockphotos

The Queensland Government’s “Safety Reset” of its mining industry was a remarkable achievement in 2019. The government intends to be equally active in occupational health and safety (OHS) in 2020, according to a media release dated 18 January 2020. Below are its “current and upcoming health and safety reforms”:

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Mining comments are revealing

The reader’s comments on online articles can be very revealing. Below is a discussion of some of the comments posted on The Australian website in response to an article about the accuracy of workplace fatality data in the mining industry. Given that this is one of the few mainstream media articles about occupational health and safety (OHS), they are telling.

One commenter asked the newspaper:

“… if one of your accountants based in the Sydney office were to have a car accident in Parramatta while driving to work in the morning, would you include that in your OHS statistics as a workplace fatality?”

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Questions asked on mining death data

The Australian newspaper published an article from the The Wall Street Journal titled “The hidden death toll from mining” (paywalled), written by Alistair Macdonald and others that questions the workplace health and safety prominence that is given to the minerals/materials sector. The opening paragraph is:

” Many mining deaths aren’t captured by global safety statistics, making the industry seem safer than it is to regulators, investors and consumers.”

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Aim for prevention, to affect real change

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) has released its submission (not yet online) to the Safe Work Australia’s (SWA) review of the Regulatory Impact Statement on the recommendations from the Boland review of the Model Work Health and Safety laws. It is comprehensive but contains little that is new. An interesting interpretation of the submission comes from considering how the MCA’s recommendations prevent harm, for prevention is the challenge.

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