Opinion

Ghosts and the machine

Owen Jacques
Owen Jacques Greg Miller

QUEENSLAND'S mine safety record might be the envy of the world, but in just the first four months of 2012, there were still 753 near-misses and serious incidents in mines and quarries across the state.

These include everything from a four-wheel-drive vehicle not slowing down at a haul road intersection or forgetting to put on a handbrake, to brown snakes biting workshop staff, all the way to excavators hitting power lines.

Every injury, scare or concern is reported to safety inspectors or representatives and collated by the state which may then deliver specific warnings about repeat incidents.

Where these things happen is not publicly released, because the government's goal is to have all miners and owners being frank about what is putting workers at risk.

Of those 753 incidents, 239 involved vehicles either hitting each other or losing control. Another 73 involved some risk of explosion, 72 involved either the risk of electric shock or actual electrocution and another eight were described as "fall of person", where someone trips or loses their footing.

The reports are a mix of mundane, bizarre and terrifying events.

In January, a four-wheel-drive sped through an intersection without seeing a giant CAT 776D dump truck which was forced to brake to avoid it being crushed.

In March, a tyre-fitter was sprayed with rocks which knocked out teeth and cut deep into his left arm when a tyre exploded - similar incidents have killed two people in the past decade.

In April, the driver of a Komatsu dump truck had a "micro-sleep" during his third night-shift, crashing into a safety barrier. He had just reported to feeling tired and was about to take a break.

With a mining workforce of about 58,000, these four months' worth of incidents equate to less than 1.5% of its workers. Even so, the mining workers' unions, managers and various levels of government are forever targeting safety in the way the resources sector digs up the earth.

Because when a fatality is visited on a family, that one person's life represents less than one-fifth of 1% of the industry, but the ripples of grief are felt by every one of those 58,000 as they walk into the workshop, climb into the dump truck's cabin or watch their spouse leave for another shift.

Topics:  mine safety, mining deaths, opinion, owen jacques


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