OPINION: Mine Safety and Health doesn’t stop at the pit gate

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On Fathers Day morning, our central Queensland coal communities were shaken by terrible news. At around 4:30am, a coal truck and trailer collided with a four-wheel-drive on Saraji Road near Dysart, close to the notorious Phillips Creek Bridge. The driver of the four-wheel drive, local dad Chris Goodwin, died at the scene of the accident. His car was horrifically crushed. 

This tragedy came just days after a father of three was killed in a collision with a road train on the Moranbah Access Rd, and marked the eighth road fatality in as many weeks in the Mackay district. It also follows another serious accident on the Phillips Creek bridge at the start of July. Despite the proximity to the mines, and the coal these trucks were carrying, Resources Safety and Health Queensland have been hesitant to link these fatalities to the mining industry.  

Those of us who live and work around the Bowen Basin, however, understand the hazards mining is creating for the safety of the community. These are multibillion dollar operations, and they are supported by the infrastructure of small country towns. Heavy vehicles share roads with commuters and in some circumstances, where there is not adequate infrastructure such as rail in place, coal is transported on roads totally unfit for purpose, leaving them damaged and unsafe. 

What made the tragedy on Fathers Day even more of an outrage was the $18m dollars already earmarked by the state and federal governments to upgrade the Phillips Creek Bridge. The bridge has been the site of frequent accidents, and desperately requires the work to cope with the frequent flow of large vehicles. 

The money was committed late last year; but sat in limbo until recently. We have recently been informed that works are due to start in mid-2024. It should not have taken these accidents and tragedies or lobbying from the MEU to get these overdue works authorised. 

The pursuit of profits over community safety is costing Queenslanders their lives, yet the companies continue to shirk responsibility. While they prefer for their accountability to end at the mine gate, these companies have obligations to the workers they employ and the communities who host them.

At last month’s solemn Miners’ Memorial Day in Mount Isa, the industry gathered and remembered those who have lost their lives in our industry – but the many tragic mining-related road fatalities like Chris Goodwin’s were not counted or mourned. 

And the lack of responsibility or care from these companies is not just on the roads. The MEU’s Queensland District has recently conducted two surveys of members asking about their mental health and the conditions of mining camps to inform our advocacy around mining laws and regulations in our state.  

These surveys found that the mining industry in Queensland has serious issues with the psychological and social wellbeing of the workforce. Mineworkers experience depression and anxiety at higher rates than the general public, exacerbated by experiences at work including bullying and harassment and the social isolation of camp life, with many camps lacking adequate communication infrastructure even to call home. Many of our members reported sleeplessness and anxiety spilling over to home life. Disturbingly, one in 20 of our survey respondents reported suicidal thoughts relating to work stress. 

It is vital that the mining companies are held accountable for the consequences of their operations, even if they occur off-site. We will continue campaigning for industry and government to take action to protect, safety, health and lives – on the mine site, on our roads, in camps and in workers’ family lives. Companies considering whether they may give their workforce a BBQ is simply not enough.

Mitch Hughes

Acting President Mining and Energy Union Queensland District.

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