Mining's deadly flaws revealed during board of inquiry
Mining companies are not taking methane exceedances seriously enough and the mine safety regulator struggles to attract and retain mines inspectors, the Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry has found.
The board's first part of the inquiry report, published online today, focused on the initial tranche of public hearings held in August.
These hearings explored various high potential incidents in Central Queensland coal mines, the Mines Inspectorate, the role of the industry and site safety and health representatives and how the management structure and employment arrangements of the mining companies may impact mine safety.
The inquiry found there was a disconnect between Anglo American and Glencore's definition of a high potential incident, and that used by the industry regulator.
A 'high potential incident' refers to an incident which could have caused a serious adverse effect on safety and health.
The report stated the potential consequence of methane exceedances was not properly identified at any of the mines subject to the inquiry, as there was a failure to recognise that each had the potential to result in serious injury or death.
"Neither Anglo American's nor Glencore's incident classification system aligns with the definition of a HPI in the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999," it said
"Anglo's use of a classification system that included so-called 'DNRM HPIs' created a subclass of HPI that may have a tendency to diminish the perception of the seriousness of the events."
The report recommended that mine operators and parent companies treat a reportable methane exceedence as having the potential to cause serious injury or death.
It also called on mine operators and parent companies to escalate the treatment of repeat high potential incidents of a similar nature and ensure a more rigorous investigation of these.
The inquiry also scrutinised the role of the mine safety regulator, with the report noting there was a shortage of mines inspectors who held a First Class Certificate of Competency.
"The inspectorate continually struggles to attract and retain inspectors, in large part because of the lower levels of remuneration for inspectors compared with positions in the industry," it said.
"The inspectorate has a proper appreciation of the significance of methane HPIs in underground coal mines."
The report recommended that Resources Safety and Health Queensland, in consultation with the Public Service Commission, should review the amount inspectors are paid to address the concerns.
In response to the August hearings, mining giant Anglo American changed its classification of a HPI to bring it in-line with the definition used by the industry regulator.
The company has also taken steps to ensure relevant learning opportunities from all incidents are automatically distributed across its mine sites and are accessible to the workforce.
Anglo American's metallurgical coal business chief executive Tyler Mitchelson said these changes were made after the company launched a review of risk management at its underground mines.
"We have proactively responded to learnings from the Grosvenor incident and the Board of Inquiry and have a significant body of work under way across our underground mines," Mr Mitchelson said.
"We will give full consideration to the board's report and continue to ensure that relevant learnings are captured and actioned within our business, which will ensure our systems and process extend beyond current industry best-practice.
"Gas management is a significant and important part of our business.
"We have allocated $1.5 billion for gas management over five years across our underground mines, and will harness advancements in data analytics to optimise our approach."
Former Mines Minister Anthony Lynham announced the Coal Mining Board of Inquiry in the wake of the Grosvenor mine disaster, which left five workers with horrific burns injuries.
The board previously announced that public hearings into Grosvenor mine would be adjourned to next year.
Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane has welcomed the board's findings.
"Our industry takes safety extremely seriously and will continue to prioritise and advocate for safe work practices, including the use of automated and remote technology in high-risk areas to remove people from the risk of potential harm," he said.
"We will wait for further outcomes from the Board of Inquiry, expected to be released in the New Year."
The full report is available here.