OHS

‘Worker Inexperience’ Costing Lives on WA Mine Sites

A recent report into fatal accidents in the WA mining industry has found that ‘worker inexperience’ plays a major role in WA mining deaths.

Worker Inexperience

The report, conducted by the Department of Mines and Petroleum, looked at 52 fatal accidents in the Western Australian Mining Industry between the years 2000 and 2012. It found that almost 1 in 3 fatal accidents occurred in a worker’s first year in a new role, and almost half in the first 2 years.

Supervisor Inexperience

The report then looked at the length of time the deceased worker’s supervisor had been in their current role and found that that 44% of fatal accidents happened under a supervisor who had been in their position for less than a year.

Non Compliance

In 9 out of 10 cases, fatalities occurred when workers were either not complying with procedure, or there was no procedure in place.

Duration at Mine Site

The report also looked at workers’ duration of employment at a mine and how that effected his or her likelihood to be killed on the job. It found that half of the fatal accidents happened in a worker’s first year of employment at a mine site, and 80% in their first 3 years. (6% of these fatalities happened in the workers first week and 12% in their first month on site).

Time on Shift

The risk of fatal accident rose sharply around 5 hours in to the first half of their shift (at around 11am on a day shift and 11pm on a night shift), just before breaking for lunch at midday / midnight. Accidents peaked again between 3-6pm in the last 3 hours of a 12 hour day shift, and at 3am during a night shift. The findings suggest that worker fatigue and a resultant loss of concentration / alertness greatly increase the risk of fatal incident.

Outcomes

Rarely is there any one thing responsible when fatal accidents occur. Such misfortunes are usually the combined result of several factors. The factors shown in this report to greatly effect one’s likelihood to be in a fatal accident include:

  • The experience of a worker in a new role, using particular tools and machinery;
  • the worker’s duration with the company and familiarity with their safety procedures and protocols;
  • the experience of the supervisor and familiarity with the workers and hazards at the particular site they are working on;
  • the time of the shift – worker fatigue and their levels of alertness and concentration;
  • the inherent risks of the task being performed;

The report should draw our attention to the vital importance of having effective induction & training policies in place and highlight the need for improved supervision during a worker’s first few months of employment.

Fatigue management policies should consider the times listed above and include appropriate measures to keep workers alert at these higher risks parts of the shift. This is especially important at mines utilising 24/7 12 hour shifts rosters. To be successful, fatigue management should involves the following:

  • An effective worker hydration policy
  • Adequate meal breaks
  • Appropriate work/rest cycles
  • Balanced worker diets (lots of fresh fruit and veg)
  • Stretching exercises
  • Health and fitness incentives
  • Attention to sleep quality
  • Moderated alcohol intake
  • Zero tolerance substance abuse
  • Promoting healthy work-life balance

Download the full report here:

Report: Fatal Accidents in the Western Australian Mining Industry 2000-2012. What Lessons Can We Learn? Government of Western Australia, Department of Miner and Petroleum