Safety at any price

QUEENSLAND’s struggling mine operators have been put on notice: don’t make safety a casualty of cutbacks. Queensland’s Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health, Stewart Bell, made the call yesterday, voicing concern that mine companies, in a bid to maintain viability amid falling commodity prices, could take shortcuts to save money.

He said there was no evidence this was the case yet but warned the Government’s inspectors were watching. Mr Bell said he had made the point to mine operators at a meeting in Townsville ahead of this week’s Queensland Mining Industry Health and Safety Conference. “We will not be standing by, watching you take shortcuts because you are trying to save money,” Mr Bell said. “We haven’t seen any evidence that is happening but if we do, we’ll jump on it.”
About 7000 jobs have been shed from the mining sector, particularly the coal industry, in recent months as falling commodity prices have made some operations unviable. Many of the jobs have been lost in contracting, whose safety record has not matched that of employee workers. Mr Bell said nine of the last 10 fatalities in the Queensland mining industry in recent years had been contractors.
“(Contractors) are human beings, the same as everyone else.
We need to look after them better,” he said. This week’s conference is the biggest of its kind in Australia. The number of people attending – about 640 – is down on previous years, partly a result of the tough times and fewer jobs. Mr Bell said Queensland enjoyed one of the best, if not the best, safety records in the world but was not perfect. He said the industry typically had accidents with mining vehicles, including one last year, while another occurred when a person became entangled in a conveyor. The conference, which began at the Townsville Entertainment Centre on Sunday, runs until tomorrow.