Report: APP CMHS Project 1

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2.1.2. Safety

The safety record of the Australian underground coal mining operation is quite good. The number of fatal injuries per one million hours worked (FIFR) has been around 0.09 and the lost time injuries per year has been about 431.

It should be noted that there has been a significant trend away from the classic mining related incidents of strata failure, fire and explosion with the improvement in management of such hazards. These often don’t figure in safety statistics (Figure 4 and Figure 5). This subsequently gives rise to lower level hazards that cause injury. However, there is no less reason to reduce the effort placed on controlling these major hazards.

Leading and lagging safety statistics are recorded though to differing degrees and definitions across the various Australian coal mines. Appendix A shows the safety statistics in Queensland underground coal mining industry.

Figure 4 Coal underground lost time injuries (LTIs) in Queensland underground coal (Queensland Safety and Health Report 2008)

Figure 5 NSW cause of injury 2007 (NSW Safety Statistics website)

The main lagging indicators are fatalities, lost time injuries, restricted work incidents or disabling injuries and medical treatment injuries as indicated in Appendix B. There has been a declining trend in fatalities since 1900; however, over the past 10 years the figures have been relatively constant (albeit very low) – though with an increasing labour force this is no less an encouraging outcome. Similarly, lost time injuries and injury rates have declined significantly though in the past 8 years the rate has slowed significantly to one of normal variation.

Leading indicators include: audits conducted, audit actions completed, hazard reports, near hit reports and safe behaviour observations. Most mines have a formal process for identifying hazards. There is an increasing trend in the number of workers who are involved in internal audits and the number of audits being performed. Tracking of the number of corrective actions resulting from HPI reporting is being recorded on an industry wide basis and the trend is increasing.

Whilst a number of the other hazards are not present in Australian underground coal mining, a number of mining companies are facing the following emerging conditions:

  • increasing depth with associated increased seam gas content, outburst risks and stress levels (a number of projects at depths of 800 m have been planned)

  • thinner seams

  • multiple seams.

The scope for safety improvement is threefold:

  • Continuing the level of education, understanding and implementation of safety and risk management systems resulting in a more proactive safety culture

  • Trend towards more enabling regulation, though with greater onus on process definition and total process management and thereby more effective safety systems

  • Refinements and/or step change innovations in engineering design in each of the identified technologies.

The primary issues of concern to underground coal mines in Australia are associated with:

  • increased depth

  • high gas content in seams of relatively low permeability

  • airborne and respirable coal dust in a high productivity environment

  • geological structure-controlled outburst conditions

  • seams intrinsically prone to spontaneous combustion

  • variable strata conditions with high horizontal stress.

In addition, improved management of heat, vibration, noise and fatigue is one of the key focuses of the industry.

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