Everyone has a duty of care to ensure their workplaces are safe. As an employer, or person conducting business or undertaking the onus is on you with regards to the health and safety in the workplace and including visitors as this is considered your primary duty of care. Based on direct or influence of work carried out by a worker, engagement of a worker to carry out work even through sub-contracting and in addition to having control of a workplace the responsibility is bestowed upon you for the duty to care as person conduction business or control of a workplace. Should and how do local communities that reside within the vicinity of mining operations fall within the jurisdiction of the mine site’s duty of care conferred on the employer? Mining activities generate dust and other emissions, which can affect mine workers onsite in addition to compromising the air quality of the communities close to mine sites. The crossover of duty of care from a workplace health and safety approach to local communities quickly becomes apparent. The role of dust control products at the source will be highlighted with emphasis on options available for the different dust sources and how their implementation actively contributes to the duty for care for both workers and local communities.  

Are miners a high-risk group?

The reality is that miners are constantly at risk of being exposed to established and potential carcinogens with studies performed on miners relative to the general population showing that miners were considered as a high-risk subgroup. Underground mine works have strongly been matched with the risk of lung cancer whereas different metalliferous ores exposed to different mine workers have contributed to increased risks to lung, prostate, colorectal and urinary tract cancers. Examples of exposure are to respirable crystalline silica, asbestos, nickel, and chromium. In general, mine workers face heterogenous exposures depending on their jobs, ore-types, work locations, equipment handled and lifestyle choices as well. Mining in Australia has also been assessed from an industry-community relationships approach focused on geology, location and the population of the mining towns. Extractive processes for mineral resources in Australia have shaped the nature and shape of Australian history and is embedded in the integral Australian experience. The past and future has always come with its different stories and the nexus between post colonization 225 years ago to the present day mining boom post 2001 contextualizes mining in eyes of history, growth, investment and in our case duty to care beyond the pit activities. Queensland and Western Australia in particular have grown remarkably showing great potential for growth in the mining sector but has all this happened at the expense of mine workers and communities? We stand to find out!

How mining communities develop?

By definition community in our discussion refers to a series of social formations that grew near the fringes of ore bodies, which normally would be called work camps, mining settlements, mining towns with the more recent term “resource communities”. All these definitions are tied to a particular geographical location and these towns are formed as a result of mining but not with deliberate planning from mine owners and managers. Other scholars argue that the construct of a community, in the context of mining mostly depended on of the effects of the mining industry which in present day have widened which makes the definition of community less tied to a place but more driven towards community of interest. We cite an example of engagement from a community liaison committee for a zinc mine in rural South Australia which highlights social conflicts stemming from lack of participation of local communities in decision-making processes which creates a rift between mining companies and government regulators. Key to our discussion are environmental concerns especially dust generated from mining activities and there is never really a consensus amongst stakeholders with regards to this concern. The mine site’s duty of care by the mining company should be clear and concise about the pre-planned mitigatory steps to reduce the effects of air pollution to be experienced by the community and the engagement strategy should involve honest presentation of possibilities and solutions proposed openly to the communities. 

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

What is a mine site’s social license?

Sustainability in the context of the social license to operate then become paramount to our discussion. So much has been said and done over the past century but what comes out strongly moving forward is the acknowledgment that the mining industry has lost its social license to operate. Key to the social license is sustainability, elimination of workplace safety and health hazards, elimination of community air quality issues from mining operations, accelerating progressive rehabilitation in open cut mines, ensuring safety and stability of tailings storage facilities and successful closure of mines and upgrading the environmental rating and performance of all mines. The social license to operate encompasses the evolving relationship between the mining industry and its stakeholders which include workers, mining communities and government at large with key strategies revolving around procedural and distributional fairness, trust and acceptance. In a country like Australia, where during the turn of the millennium 9 of the 10 top export earning commodities were minerals a standard has to be set for safety, risk and environmental management for both mine workers and local communities. At the very pinnacle of global benchmarks in mining technology, Australia is a force to be reckoned with but whether that has coincidentally evolved with safety standards across the different States that still waits to be answered with so many areas of growth that unfortunately have not grown at the same pace as the economic rewards of mining in Australia. 


How does “duty of care” translate to action?

In achieving the mine site’s duty of care, mining companies should make sure that a consultative approach is taken to avoid at all costs the local communities feeling disenfranchised by mining operations and yet end up bearing the brunt of air pollution in the time the mine within their vicinity is operational. The role of government cannot be understated as mining is generally regulated at a State level but the Federal or Commonwealth government has an overarching role in matters of national significance in which the synergy between workplace health and safety and communities is a top priority that in non-negotiable regardless of location within Australia. Development of legislation which is mandatory ensures operations in the mining sector are conducted with very high standards with clear, transparent and enforceable rules. Miners and communities need certainty with regards to the onus of safe of work that is the sole responsibility of the mining company. Amongst the active contributors to the duty for care are Global Road Technology through their offerings of dust control products that eliminate dust at its source. Global Road Technology products are designed to feed into workplace health and safety efforts whilst concurrently tackling air quality concerns of local communities. Key to their efficacy is post life environmentally friendly considerations which holistically addresses the notion of earth stewardship in the life cycle assessment of their use from formulation, use and post-use fingerprint in the environment. 

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