Research reveals key causes of mining deaths

New research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) has identified some key causes of workplace fatalities in the Western Australian (WA) mining and resources sector, giving mining companies vital information to reduce workplace injuries. 

The researchers surveyed more than 2000 mining employees from 2017-2019 to gain their perceptions of workplace safety and injury risk. 

The researchers used a questionnaire based on Michael Quinlan’s 2014 book, Ten Pathways to Death and Disaster, which outlines common risk factors for catastrophic work incidents. 

ECU compared the questionnaire results to actual workplace fatalities to see if the way people perceived the injury risk at their workplace aligned with the results of the incidents. 

The research identified four pathways – design, engineering, technical and maintenance flaws, failures in safety management systems, failures in auditing and poor management: worker communication and trust – were regularly associated with WA mining deaths. 

ECU PhD candidate Tanya Jenke said the study could act as a blueprint for mining companies to ensure their worksites were as safe as possible. 

“We aimed to assist the West Australian mining industry in learning from past fatalities and to provide direction for controlling fatality risks in the future,” she said. 

“The simplicity of the Ten Pathways makes them a valuable risk communication tool, and could readily be used to commence discussions, for example at safety meetings, or implemented in a reporting tool to allow companies to learn about safety matters more effectively.” 

Survey respondents in leadership roles, such as superintendents and managers, scored their organisation’s performance higher than employees in frontline positions which could have serious ramifications. 

“It highlights potentially dangerous gaps between employee expectations of management – such as prioritising worker safety – and reality,” Jenke said. 

“Mining organisations need to ensure systems and processes are in place to foster a collaborative and transparent work environment.” 

The study recommends that mining companies prioritise the four pathways that were highlighted in the study, however, Jenke said organisations should address all 10 pathways, as they were developed from fatalities. 

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