Professor Michael Quinlan, Beaconsfield and Safety Cases

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I have spoken elsewhere of the non-release of Professor Michael Quinlan’s OHS report into the Beaconsfield mine.  On 4 August 2008, he spoke at the coronial inquest into the death of Larry Knight.  According to media reports, Professor Quinlan said about the rockfall that killed Larry Knight:

“I can’t say the event wouldn’t have occurred – I can say that the chances of it occurring would have been reduced… They are steps that should have been taken, in my view.”

He has also been very hot on the validity of risk assessment processes at workplace. As part of Melick report into the disaster, Melick used Quinlan’s report when writing

 “As far as can be determined, the risk ranking of ground control was not reassessed or revised in the light of these (earlier rockfall) events…. The evidence indicates that the possibility of further significant seismic events in the mine in 915 and 925 metre levels was foreseeable.” 

In December 2007, I interviewed Professor Quinlan about a range of OHS issues including major hazards.  In the SafetyAtWork podcast, he said that some mines in Western Australia have begun to apply a safety case regime to safety because of the high-hazard nature of the workplace.  At that time he supported such a move.

Quinlan pointed out, though, that safety case regulation is very resource-intensive and, therefore, only relative to large organisations and well-resourced regulators. 

It is unlikely that such a combination could have been applied to the mine in Beaconsfield as Quinlan is reported as saying at the inquest that 

“Workplace Standards Tasmania was under-resourced and [he] recommended the development of mine-specific safety laws and trade-union mine inspectors.”

Many submissions to the National OHS Law Review have mentioned the relevance of a safety case approach to OHS but only one of the currently available submissions mentions that the safety case approach could be applied to mines.

Why are many of China’s coalmines closed?

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Safety At Work magazine has been reporting on the seemingly endless deaths in the Chinese mining industry for many years.  Many of the mine fatalities are of multiples that would generate huge investigations in the west.  Many deaths are compounded by the attempts of mine managers to minimise the scale of the disasters by delaying reporting the incident, not reporting at all, or disposing of the bodies. 

These incidents have occurred mostly in privately-run mines and over the last couple of years the government has had regular crackdowns on the industry.

China is a good example of a country that manages safety in reaction to disasters.  Poor safety management is often ignored as long as production is guaranteed.  This is evident in its manufacturing sector as much as it is in mining.

John Garnaut in The Age newspaper on August 4 2008 reports on the actions of the Chinese government in the mining sector in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics.  Garnaut reports that migrant workers were sent home weeks ago without pay.  At one mine he attended, work was stopped by management, ostensibly due to his presence as a journalist.

The closure of these mines has had a heavy impact on the coal supply and coal prices and Garnaut says that the action of the government has come about to

“prevent the Olympic Games from being marred by embarrassing reports of mine disasters.”

China’s decision shows how sensitive it is to criticism from other countries. The mess over internet access is a further example.

China does not only manage safety reactively, it manages through diversion, concealment and censorship.

What Garnaut’s reporting and China’s censorship shows is that safety of workers, and accountability of business owners can be improved through the attention of outsiders.  For over seven years, in my experience, China has been experiencing almost monthly fatalities in its coal industry.  I have been publishing whatever reports I can obtain (legitimately) from the wire service, however similar reports have not been appearing in the mainstream, or event the trade, press.  The community is generally unaware of the cultural negligence that the Chinese system of production and regulation allows. 

Perhaps it is a truth that few of us really care but one of the major threats to any management process is hypocrisy.  The Chinese government may be comfortable with that but our own governments should not be hypocrites in our trade negotiations with partners like China.

UPDATE

The Associated Press has reported a gas explosion in a coal mine in at the Baijiagou mine in the northeast of Liaoning province on 18 August 2008. Twenty-four workers are trapped but fifty-six other miners escaped without injury. The story came through the Xinhua News Agency in China, so it will be worth seeing, during this Olympics fervour, what attention this disaster receives from the West

Stress and job mobility

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In The Age newspaper for 31 July 2008, James Adonis wrote the article “Eight signs your workplace is crook”.  One of those signs was stressed workers.  He quoted a report by Watson Wyatt where employees listed stress  as a major reason for leaving a job.  Stress did not rank in the employers’ top five reasons for people leaving.

This disconnect illustrates a major misunderstanding about workplace stress by employers and, maybe, employees.  The ultimate control measure for workplace stress is to leave a job and I recommend this to colleagues who do not see it as a viable hazard control option.

The challenge is to make sure that the next job is not, or does not become, a similarly stressful job.

The executive summary of the report says

“Forty-eight percent of organizations say that job-related stress — created by long hours and doing more with less — affects business performance. Although only 5 percent are taking strong action to address it…”

The focus on business performance may reflect the perspective of the report writers but as it is only available for purchase for $US49, I would ask for the report (2007/2008 Staying@Work Report: Building an Effective Health & Productivity Framework) at a library.

Closing of Don Smallgoods factory in Victoria

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Manual Handling in the Food Industry - First Edition

 

Manual Handling in the Food Industry - First Edition

 

Several years ago, I visited the Don Smallgoods food manufacturers in the west of Melbourne. I was visiting food manufacturers during the writing and design of the first edition of the WorkSafe Victoria guide on Manual Handling in the Food Industry. (The current edition is available HERE) Many photos in that first edition came from the Don factory.

Now its owners have decided to close the plant which has a workforce of 600 people.  Many of the workers I spoke with had worked there for decades.  Many of them had multiple relatives working alongside them and most of the workforce came from non-English speaking backgrounds.

The closure will have a heavy economic effect on those families and the economy of the western suburbs.  My sympathy and best wishes go to those workers.

Bank influence on Beaconsfield Mine

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It is all too easy to misread the headline on page 7 of today’s Australian newspaper:

MacBank ‘had input’ into goldmine

This seems to confirm the recent statements by miners to the coronial inquest into Larry Knight’s death at Beaconsfield Mine, and accusations by unions.  The headline is based on the statements made by Michael Ryan who was the administrator to Allstate Explorations.  Ryan said that the Macquarie Bank had representatives on the joint venture committee and those bank representatives asked questions about the mine.  However Ryan could not recall if questions were raised by them about production levels.  

Ryan said that Matthew Gill, the mine manager, had made several unsuccessful attempts to have government safety inspectors visit the mine.  The article does not specify the reason for Gill’s attempts.

Michael Ryan said that he would approve any expenditure on safety at the mine.

The article says that in the month prior to the April 2006 rockfall, Ryan asked about safety in the mine.

“He said he asked Mr Gill on a number of occasions if the mine was safe, including in March 2006, after observing an unusual number of rocks caught in support mesh. “(Gill’s) answers were to the effect that it was (safe).”

Matthew Gill has spoken publicly several times about his experiences following the rockfall and is now on the professional speakers’ circuit.  He was appointed the Managing Director of Monarch Gold Mining Company.