There were 17 serious injuries and one fatality in Western Australia’s mineral exploration industry in 2017, said WA’s director of mines safety, Andrew Chaplyn.
“Drilling in any environment can be hazardous, but mineral exploration in remote locations, such as those found in Western Australia, presents additional risk factors,” Chaplyn said.
“These factors include the risk of extreme weather events, accessibility difficulties and distance from emergency services.”
In 2017 there were a total of 1126 injuries and 2470 notifiable incidents reported to the department.
Of these, 27 injuries and 77 notifiable incidents involved exploration operations, according to WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety’s exploration health and safety data
“While exploration operations may only account for a small number of injuries and notifiable incidents, the risk factors associated with these operations can impact on the safety and health outcomes for workers,” Chaplyn said.
“That’s why it is important exploration operations review their safe work practices and ensure the safety and health of workers is a priority.”
In one incident in October 2017, two field service technicians were working in a remote area of the Pilbara, conducting field survey reconnaissance on an exploration tenement.
After driving over an hour to the tenement, the two technicians parked the vehicle and walked about 16 km in temperatures reaching 36°C.
They returned the next day, parked up, and walked about 18 km in around seven hours, with the temperature peaking at 37°C.
While returning to their vehicle, one of the field technicians collapsed and became unconscious.
Within a short time, the field technician stopped breathing and could not be resuscitated.
It was established that the cause of death was associated with dehydration and renal failure, and an investigation found that neither the heat stress management plan/procedures were adequate.
The department subsequently suggested a number of safe work practices, including:
- Do not rotate drill rods without guarding in place or a safe system of work (e.g. isolation protocols, cut-out or interlock devices).
- Implement procedures for the safe removal of blockages in compressed air systems.
- Provide weather protection (e.g. tents, shade) and cool rest and recovery areas.
- When designing drill programs, assess the likelihood of encountering fibrous, radioactive or toxic metal-bearing minerals (e.g. using historical geological records).
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