The Worsening Fatality Statistics in Australian Mining
by Shane Granger
For those that closely follow the Australian Mining Sector it will come as no surprise that 2014 is emerging as one of the worst in terms of safety that we have seen in a generation. According to SafeWork Australia in the first six months of this year there were 11 notifiable fatalities in the mining sector, which according to my calculations currently equates to a Worker Fatality Rate (WFR) of 28.8 fatalities per 100,000 workers. To give that some historical context the WFR for all Australian workers in 2013 was 1.64 fatalities per 100,000 workers.
The first chart details the amount of work related fatalities by year since 2003. Figures exclude death by iatrogenic injuries, natural causes not related to work, disease, injuries sustained while overseas or suicide. The 2014 numbers are correct to 8 August with the 2013 and 2014 numbers reflecting the more comprehensive Industry of Workplace statistics (with thanks to the statistics team at SafeWork Australia for clarifying the differences).
Since the start of 2014 I have started to closely track employment, automation and fatalities as the three key indicators on the health of the mining sector. Within a few weeks I knew that mining safety would be a big story as a number of single fatalities occurred during January and February followed up by an underground collapse in April which killed two miners at the Austar Coal Mine .
Yet, a heightened fatality count in the mining industry isn’t the only story here.
Initially out of ignorance to how the industry and SafeWork Australia tracks its work related fatalities I started to build up a personal database of mining fatalities which also included those who have died of natural causes (on-site but not work related), from suicide, fatalities in overseas Australian miners and more recently those who could be considered Lifestyle Miners.
The second chart looks at Mining and Mining Related deaths of Australians in 2014.The WFR is calculated only on the official SafeWork Australia figures (correct as at 8 Aug 2014).
The key data point in the chart is the inclusion of known suicides. In June The West Australian mining industry was left reeling when an onsite incident led to the death of one employee and the possible offsite death of another. This incident has been followed up by two more probable onsite suicides amongst Pilbara FIFO workers. The recent tragedies come about as the District Coroner for the Pilbara region referred a number of 2013 deaths by suicide amongst FIFO workers to the WA State Coroner for a possible inquest.
It’s not all bad news though and I was heartened by news that AngloGold Ashanti, who were at the centre of the recent multiple tragedy in the Pilbara have in the past week signed up to the FIFO Families Social Support and Education Program.
In summary, I believe the mining industry must face the issue of mental health and suicide head-on. As far as I am concerned, if a miner dies by his or her own hand onsite should be treated in exactly the same way as if it were a work related fatality including the provision of industry wide data and statistics on the subject, more education to employees and their families and if required, seeking help from appropriate resources and organisations.
If you or someone you know is thinking of suicide, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14. Help is also available via Rural Link (1800 552 002), the Suicide Call Back Line (1300 659 467) and online resources can be found at BeyondBlue.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. 6291.0.55.003 – Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly, May 2014. Accessed 11 Aug 2014.
 SafeWork Australia. Worker fatalities. Accessed 11 Aug 2014.
 SafeWork Australia. Work-related Traumatic Injury Fatalities, Australia 2013. SafeWork Australia. 2014. Pg: iii-vii.