Open Cut

Reducing Musculoskeletal Risk in Open Cut Coal Mining

Open Cut » Health and Safety

Published: August 04Project Number: C11058

Get ReportAuthor: Robin Burgess-Limerick | University of Queensland

Across all industries, approximately 40% of injuries are musculoskeletal injuries associated with manual tasks. The majority of these injuries are believed to be preventable without any loss of productivity. The prevalence may be even higher in coal mining, where musculoskeletal injuries (sprains and strains of joints and adjacent muscles) represented 67% of compensation claims in coal mining involving five or more lost days.

It is widely accepted that implementation of a comprehensive ergonomics program is likely to be the most effective means of reducing exposure to musculoskeletal injury risks associated with manual tasks within individual workplaces. The core elements of a successful ergonomics program include management commitment, employee involvement, hazard identification, risk control, and employee training and eduction.

A participatory approach to manual task risk reduction takes as a framework a risk management cycle of hazard identification, risk assessment, risk control and follow up evaluation.

Benefits of the participative approach include:
  • expertise of workers is used to identify problems and solutions resulting in a better quality of risk assessment and control
  • workers develop ownership of the process and are consequently more likely to support rather than obstruct suggested changes to work practises
  • improved team work and team cooperation
  • positive impact on general safety climate and culture.
The objectives of the project were:
  • to identify and assess common high risk manual tasks involved in open cut coal mining;
  • to develop, implement, and evaluate control measure for these tasks; and
  • to determine whether controls are transferable to other workplaces.

Six sites have been involved in the project. Tarong was involved as a participating site in a previous feasibility study, and theinformation gathered through that participation has been utilised in the current project. Ulan and Gregory were involved through the participation of staff in manual tasks risk assessment training and control training. Warkworth, Mt. Thorley and Hunter Valley Operations were involved through the training of CHPP, mining & maintenance workers. Employees of three contractors (Convatech, Johnson Screens & MBM Sheet Metal) have also been involved in the training at these sites. Staff at a number of other sites have indirectly involved in the project, including through provision of comment on the draft handbook and video.

The project has demonstrated the feasibility of implementation of a participative program for manual tasks at open cut coal sites. With appropriate training, mine workers are able to undertake risk assessment of manual tasks, and generate appropriate control suggestions. The handbook and video produced as part of the project provide the training materials necessary for sites to implement such a program.

An e-newsletter has also been published for this project, highlighting its significance for the industry.


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