Publication of the international standard for Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS) known as ISO 45001 in 2018 set a milestone for addressing concerns through provision of a framework for instituting and preserving an occupational health and safety system in addition to handling occupational health and risks at the workplace. In hindsight, ISO 45001 took over from ISO 18001 which was traditionally adopted as a standard utilized for controlling workplace risks to date. The holistic approach to ISO 45001 combines ISO 9001 for quality management and ISO 14001 for environmental management therefore it tackles safety, social responsibility and environmental stewardship. Australia through Standards Australia has seen changes from AS/NZS 4801 to AS/NZS ISO 45001 in the interest workplace health and safety. This series of articles seek to address workplace health and safety from an Australian mining industry perspective through defining workplace health and safety, assessment of the standards and regulations in the Australian mining industry and the role played by Global Road Technology in ensuring management of workplace health and safety instead of just compliance in Australia. 

Working in the Mines

The mining work environment is inherently hazardous. Issues range the design of the workplace, structural components, control over the environmental stressors such as extremes of temperature, inadequate ventilation and exposure to dust generated from mining activities. Mine workers can be exposed to risks to their health and may contract a range of occupational diseases and conditions with the worst case scenario being the loss of life. Workplace health and safety is concerned firstly with the relationship of work to health and secondly the effects of work on the worker as is evident through the effect of health on the capacity to work. Workplace health practice is concerned with measures to prevent or reduce the risk of occupational diseases and must include a variety of health surveillance procedures. The context in mining broadens to systems for identification, measurement, evaluation and control of occupational health risks, consideration of the ergonomic aspects of tasks, the selection, provision, assessment of suitability, maintenance and use of personal protective equipment, the provision of information, instruction, training and constant supervision for all persons exposed to health risks. 

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4 Main Categories

In Australia, mining related occupational health risks can be classified into four main categories namely physical, chemical, biological and ergonomic often known as work related. Physical occupational health risks entail exposure to physical phenomena such as noise, radiation and vibration, along with extremes of temperature and pressure, inadequate lighting and airborne particulates such as dust. Exposure to these physical risks can result in a range of conditions, including noise-induced hearing loss, heat stroke, radiation sickness, decompression sickness, pneumoconiosis, vibrations induced white finger and heat cataract. Chemical occupational health risks entail exposure to chemical substances classified as toxic, corrosive, harmful and irritant which can result in death along with chemical poisoning and occupational cancers. Typically, dermatitis is a classic indication of exposure to hazardous chemicals. Biological occupational health risks normally pertain to certain types of work in agriculture and laboratories which might expose frontline workers to bacteria, viruses and other harmful microorganisms. In mining, ergonomics could be in the form of repetitive movements of joints, visual fatigue, postural fatigue, physical and mental stress. With the advent of mechanization commonality of manual handling operations has improved but conditions such as prolapsed intervertebral disc, hernias, muscle and ligament strains are common workplace related risks in mining. 

Harmonizing Australian WHS Laws

Historically the evolution of Australia’s harmonized occupational health and safety laws can be traced to before 1983 when independent action amongst the states was developed and implemented. The period 1983 to 1986 saw modest standards but with inconsistent implementation whereas 1996 to 2004 was considered more strategic and directional as was evident in the National Occupational Health and Safety Strategy driven by common focus, innovation and series of state reviews. Post 2004 to 2007 cooperation amongst states led to the agreement to harmonise core elements of Occupational Health and Safety Acts and create administrative arrangements. Post 2007 to date there have been model acts, regulations and codes being implemented. Generally, mining occupational health and safety legislation in Australia is considered as being the most progressive in the world with its basis structured on duty of care, risk management principles and workforce representation, with the primary responsibility for the provision of a safe work place residing with the operator of the mine site. Government inspectors play the role of both enforcement of regulations and mentors who advocate for good health and safety performance, with enforcement protocols taking a risk based approach which means action is determined by both the level and immediacy of the risk. 

Industry Strategies

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Recent workplace health and safety strategies in Australia have taken an integrated approach in modelling Work, Health and Safety regulations, codes of practice and a national compliance and enforcement policy. As of 2012 state governments were mandated to introduce occupational health and safety legislation consistent with the national model legislation. The major mining states Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland elected to retain specific mining occupational health and safety legislation. In addition to harmonization of general occupational health and safety legislation the Ministerial Council on Mineral and Petroleum Resources has developed the National Mine Safety Framework which seeks to achieve a nationally consistent occupational health and safety regime for the Australian mining industry. The seven strategies from the National Mine Safety Framework included nationally consistent legislation, competency support, compliance support, a nationally coordinated protocol on enforcement, consistent and reliable data collection and analysis, effective consultation mechanisms and a collaborative approach to research. 

Providing Engineered Solutions

Global Road Technology (GRT) plays an active role through providing innovative solutions to tackle physical, chemical, and even biological hazards in the Australian mining industry. In doing so, they provide risk management strategies through the development and implementation of engineering controls that reduce or even eliminate the risk. After this, GRT monitors the effectiveness of the controls and continuously assess and monitor the levels of the residual risk based on need. Consistent with modern Australian legislation, Global Road Technology exercises its duty to care through supply of dust control technologies that are not only fit for purpose but also do not adversely affect the safety and health of workers. This approach encourages proactive management of workplace health and safety instead of just compliance with regulations. 

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REFERENCES 

  • Cliff, D. 2012. The Management of Occupational Health and Safety in the Australian Mining Industry. International Mining for Development Centre: Mining for Development: Guide to Australian Practice. 
  • Joy, J. 2004. Occupational safety risk management in Australian mining.  Occupational Medicine. 54. 311-315. 
  • Stranks, J. 2006. The Health & Safety Handbook – a practical guide to health and safety law, management policies and procedures. Kogan Page Limited. United Kingdom.  
  • Vivoda, V., and Fulcher, J. 2017. Occupational Health and Safety. Mining Legislation Reform Initiative. Working Paper 6.
  • Windholz. E. 2013. The Long and Winding Road to OHS Harmonisation. Labour History. 104.