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Occupational Health and Safety Priorities for the Australian Coal Industry

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Published: March 00Project Number: C8025

Get ReportAuthor: John Culvenor, John Knowles, Steve Cowley | VIOSH Australia University of Ballarat

The University of Ballarat has analysed workers' compensation claims relating to the black coal mining industry in Queensland and New South Wales. This project followed an ACARP project some years earlier that examined the same issues (Mitchell & Larsson 19994).

Data from Queensland (2287 claims from 1 July 1997 to 25 March 1999) and New South Wales (13850 claims from 1 January 1996 to 31 December 1998) were analysed. Four-hundred and six (406) abstracts of research published since 1993 were also analysed. The priorities emerging from the compensation claims data were compared with the topics addressed over recent years of research in coal mining.

The analysis of compensation data showed that soft-tissue injuries that are usually thought of as being related to manual handling (strain, sprain, etc) make up a large proportion of the compensation costs in both underground and open cut mines. Traumatic injuries (fracture, bruise, laceration, etc) are also significant with the costs of these injuries contributing to between 10 and 30 percent of the total in both mine types and both states.

The costly injury types in underground mining are: overexertion (29%); slips, trips and falls (22%); and being struck by objects (20%). In open cut mining the costly injury types include: overexertion (18%); slips, trips and falls (22%); vehicle vibration (21%); and vehicle accidents (16%).

In open cut mining, injury causation mostly involves mobile plant (52%) including: dump trucks; dozers; and front-end loaders. Floor surfaces and steps and stairs (11% combined) are also commonly involved in open cut injuries. Underground accidents are more diverse with accidents involving a wide range of mobile/semi-mobile plant and the work environment itself. Powered plant is often associated with underground accidents (17%) and includes: conveyors; transporters; roof-bolters; chocks; and loaders.

The work environment itself is often involved, including: floor surfaces (18%), the rib, roof and face (11%); and coal, rocks, etc in general. Other plant is also important such as the trailing cable (3%) and ventilation equipment (2%).

In terms of research, activity World-wide over the 1990's seems to have kept pace with the 1980's with 700-800 research reports being published in both decades (see Mitchell & Larsson 1994). The topics of international literature seem to be consistent between this study period (post 1993) and the pre 1994 literature examined by Mitchell and Larsson (1994). Research about dust and respiratory issues was common pre 1994 (30%) and remains common (27%) post 1993.

To summarize recent research efforts, two-thirds (66%) of research internationally has addressed the topics of: dust and respiratory issues (27%); fire (15%); ground, wall or roof support (14%); or ventilation or air quality (10%). In contrast recent Australian research has addressed somewhat different topics. In Australia, two-thirds of recent Australian research (ACARP projects) has been concerned with the topics of: ground, wall or roof-support (25%); explosions (15%); machinery (10%); fire (7%); and management systems (7%). In both Australian and international efforts there is an absence of research about manual handling issues.

In order to ensure that occupational health and safety are addressed in a way that will reduce compensation costs, research projects must be encouraged in areas where these costs are incurred. Given that manual handling is so costly in compensation terms, encouragement of research about how to control this problem should be encouraged. However, more generally, this report recommends that an OHS Impact Statement be required of all research projects in coal mining. This requirement should cover all research, including those not specifically targeting workplace safety, so as to maximize opportunities to draw safety benefits from all projects.

A simple one-page checklist model is proposed to assist applicants with the identification of the areas of occupational health and safety that their project could influence. This will assist funding agencies in the assessment of the degree to which proposed research will address priority issues. It is recognized in this report that compensation costs are not the only parameter to consider when determining the merit of safety research and considerations outside the scope of the checklist presented will also be needed.

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