Australian metalliferous mining workplace health and safety is based on the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011. The framework protects the health and safety of anyone else who might be affected by the work that is being conducted at a metalliferous mine for example. It should be noted that, although mine safety is legislated at a state-level, there are some jurisdictional similarities and uniformities in mine safety standards across Australia. According to The Lancet Commission on pollution and health, pollution has been identified as the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death. Specifically, metalliferous mine dusts and associated potentially toxic elements released into the environment through dust generating activities result in adverse health effect to metalliferous mine workers. Every different metalliferous mine in Australia employs different measures to reduce the effects of workplace exposure to metalliferous mine dust. Variables such as location of the metalliferous mine, approach taken for management of hazards, source of the metalliferous mine dust, transport pathway, nature of exposure such as duration and activity and the exposure route related to inhalation, ingestion or topical absorption contribute to the complexity of workplace safety and health. This article evaluates workplace health and safety from an Australian metalliferous mining perspective through the legislative lenses across the states in Australia whilst addressing the challenges related to exposure to metalliferous dust and giving the solutions offered by Global Road Technology and how they contribute to workplace health and safety at metalliferous mines in Australia. 

Legislative contexts

Let’s turn our attention to evaluating legislative frameworks for health and safety in the Australian mining sector. The jurisdictions in Australia include the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, Northern Territory, Victoria, Commonwealth, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. The respective legislative frameworks in the different Australian jurisdictions are as follows:

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It is well documented by the Australian government through their community health and safety handbook that health and safety within the mining lease is covered by the occupational or workplace health and safety laws of each state of Australia. Mining worker safety and health is covered by a range of legislation as seen in the different Australian jurisdictions. Typical examples are in New South Wales where mining legislation is covered by the Work Health and Safety (Mines) Act 2013 and Regulations 2014 which are subordinate to mainstream Worker Health and Safety Act. In Queensland and Western Australia, the mining worker safety and health legislation is applicable to mine sites. Non-uniformity in legislation amongst the states exists but with some similarity in prescriptive regulations. The Queensland mining legislation is strongly focused on workplace health and safety management based on safety management systems and risk management. Work health and safety legislation in Western Australia is governed by only one mining safety act and associated regulations tackling metalliferous mining. 

Dust as a major WHS challenge

Many sites acknowledge dust as an issue, but focus on other elements such as collisions, falls from heights etc. Whilst these are important, dust is clearly the most critical as it is damaging/killing people (albeit gradually) every day. Mining of metalliferous ores generates mineral dusts from sources such as land clearing, drilling, blasting, transport operations, crushing, milling, screening and stockpiling. Metalliferous dust control can be achieved used different methods and the efficacy of control is based on particle size concentration, size, morphology and chemical composition of the metalliferous dust. Metalliferous dust is rich in crystalline silica which could be in the form of quartz, tridymite and cristobalite and metals and metalloids such as uranium, copper, zinc and tin amongst many others. The health hazards associated with mine worker exposure to metalliferous dust include is of different occupational health effect classes namely inhalable dust, thoracic dust and respirable dust. The physiological effects of the dust types generated from metalliferous mining include toxic dust, carcinogenic dust, fibrogenic dust, explosive dust and nuisance dust. Over exposure to these metalliferous dust types can result in deposition of the mass fraction into the upper airways and lungs for thoracic dust, with respirable metalliferous dust possibly being inhaled beyond the terminal bronchioles in the alveoli or gas exchange region of the lungs and pose a greater risk through absorption of trace elements into the blood stream. Nuisance dust can result in adverse aesthetic effects such as settling on surfaces, discoloration and soiling with inhalable particle sizes increasing the risk of irritation to the mucosal membranes of the nose, throat and eyes. 

The challenges faced by the Australian metalliferous mining sector with regards to mineworker safety and health can be greatly improved by development and implementation of safety and health management systems that tackle, not just monitor dust. Illnesses related to metalliferous mine activities are definitely an indication of a problem in the system therefore when assessing risks health and safety at metalliferous mines it is key to objectively include both risks related to specific incidents in acute hazards and those that are generated from the repeated exposure to chronic hazards. With the often close link between cause and effect acute hazards tend to be managed via specific management plans whereas chronic hazards are covered under the requirement to provide a safe working environment and manage exposure to contaminants and other hazards to acceptable levels. 

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Industry best practice

To deliver safe working environments, Global Road Technology offers innovative solutions to prevent the generation of metalliferous mine dust at the source. Through their different dust control products Global Road Technology offers GRT Haul-Loc for metalliferous mine haul roads, GRT Activate and GRT Ore-Loc for hydrophobic ore surfaces from metalliferous mines and for metalliferous mine stockpiles, GRT EnviroBinder for post metalliferous mine life rehabilitation. Overall, workplace health and safety in metalliferous mining in Australia is best understood from a legislative, work hazard and risks associated with exposure to different metalliferous minerals. Global Road Technology offers viable, sustainable and effective solutions contributing to compliance with the legislative approaches recommended in Australia in the process reducing the hazardous risks to metalliferous mine workers reduced and fulfilling worker safety and health obligations and the right to duty of different metalliferous mining companies. 

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REFERENCES 

Australian Government. 2016. Community Health and Safety Handbook. Leading Practice Sustainable Development Program for the Mining Industry. 

Cliff, D. 2012. The Management of Occupational Health and Safety in the Australian Mining Industry. Collaboration between the Australian Government, The University of Queensland and The University of Western Australia. 

Entwistle et al. 2019. Metalliferous Mine Dust: Human Health Impacts and the Potential Determinants of Disease in Mining Communities. Current Pollution Reports. 5. 

Joy, J. 2004. Occupational safety risk management in Australian mining. Occupational Medicine. 54.

Noble et al. 2017. Mineral Dust Emissions at Metalliferous Mine Sites. Springer International Publishing Switzerland. 

Vivoda, V., and Fulcher, J. 2017. Occupational Health and Safety. Mining Legislation Reform Initiative.