In the mining and resources sector, safety management has been in place since the days of taking a caged canary into an underground coal mine. The theory was, if the canary dropped dead, it was time to get out. The canary was in fact a carbon monoxide detector.
Of course, these days animal rights groups would be up in arms if we did that, and instead (thankfully) we have highly sophisticated meters that can be worn or installed in locations within the mine.
When I started in the mining industry, it was compulsory to wear steelcap boots and hearing and eye protection (in designated areas). Dust masks, respirators, gloves and protective clothing were also required when doing certain tasks. Hard hats were needed only when entering certain zones in and around the plant and the open pit itself. Everyone wore shorts and short-sleeved tops. Sun protection was not offered, unless you were a full-time field worker. Sunscreen? Forget it. Long sleeve shirts? Only in winter.
Nowadays, employees are dressed head to toe in fluoro yellow or orange with reflective striping, hard hats and safety glasses are compulsory everywhere on site, and gloves are required doing any work aside from office work. JSAs, SOPs, BAs, COP, BBS: the list of acronyms is almost endless, as is their daily use by every site-based person.
Safety is creating thousands of jobs and is an industry generating millions of dollars in training requirements, protective equipment sales, achieving legislative and regulatory compliance, and auditing.
But has safety gone too far? Are we controlling not just the work environment but everyday life to such an extent that individuals encountering an unexpected event are not able to assess the immediate risk?
Consider these examples where complying with a legislative requirement does not make sense:
– Pilots have had pens confiscated during pre-boarding screening but are then in charge of a large aircraft holding thousands of litres of fuel, flying over large cities
-Economy class passengers are not provided metal cutlery or glass, yet those in business and first class are?
-The pool fencing laws in Australia require that all backyard pools have an Australian standard fence. Yet council lakes, ponds, rivers and beaches are not fenced at all?
-We tag sharks and have aerial watches to ensure the safety of swimmers. Yet more people have drowned off the coast of Australia and there is no public education campaign on rips.
Then there is the reputation Australia has with overseas visitors for being a nanny state. As this article states, there is a danger of Australia becoming too bland with overregulation. But can workplaces also be too over-regulated?
Risks and hazards exist in all workplaces and everyday environments. As kids we all learnt to safely cross the road and as teenagers most of us learnt how to drive safely. But when you’re on a mine site where 220T dump trucks and Toyota Landcruisers share the same road, where explosives tear apart the earth, and processing equipment is capable of crushing large rocks into fine powder, personal occupational health and safety is at a whole new level.
Ensuring people’s safety on a mine site with legislation, regulations, processes and standards is a necessity. Risk assessments and hazard management is a part of everyday life for a mining employee. Every individual has a duty of care.
Statistically the mining industry is one of the safer industries in Australia, and the Australian mining regulations are well recognised globally and used in other countries when establishing their regulations.
While for some it seems that the industry is ‘over-regulated’ by zealous safety professionals and government departments, the regulations and these professionals are what make our industry so safe.