Miners face high risk of injury
QUEENSLAND miners are being sprayed with acid, gassed, bitten by venomous snakes and even being struck by lightning while on the job.
But even those risks pale in comparison to the looming threat of a catastrophic explosion that could wipe out an operation.
In the past month, two incidents - one involving gas catching fire - reminded CFMEU's district vice-president Stephen Smyth of the deadly risks to workers.
Mr Smyth pointed to workers being repeatedly "gassed" at the Theiss mine in Collinsville, about 160km south-west of Airlie Beach.
Parts of the operation have ground to a halt while improvements are being made.
Mr Smyth said a small blaze at Oaky Creek mine could have created a horror on the same scale as New Zealand's Pike River tragedy that killed 29.
Both incidents are now under investigation by the Queensland Government.
"When you have ignition of gas - that is, if there's enough gas present for that initial fire, you could have an explosion similar to Pike River," Mr Smyth said.
"If you're in the right environment with dust and gas, it can propagate into a major fire or explosion.
"That's the worst-case scenario but the fact is that mines blow up. That's why we have safety rules."
And although most workers act responsibly, the sheer amount of recorded near-misses appears astonishing.
Department of Mines data obtained by APN found more than 1000 "serious accidents or high-potential incidents" in the six months from August 2011 to January 2012.
More than 220 of these involved fire and another 395 involved vehicles hitting one another or an operator losing control.
A further 80 incidents involved explosions.
To give an indication of the breadth and of injuries faced by those in the industry, in January two site workers were bitten by a potentially deadly brown snake - one was a site caterer taking rubbish to a bin.
In December a miner was hit by lightning as he was closing a farm gate.
He then "blacked out" and was eventually taken to hospital and survived.
A diesel fitter in September had acid splashed into his eyes along with shrapnel after a truck jump-start somehow exploded the battery.
The state government does not release detail on where these incidents occurred so mining companies are not discouraged to report risks of injury.
A report into safety on Queensland mines up to mid-2011 found the number of injuries and accidents had fallen.
But there were still 505 people left with a disability for the year, and three killed while at work.
Mr Smyth said as the mining industry picked up workers, site novices - or "cleanskins" - may still not know enough to keep themselves safe.
"You have an industry that's booming and you bring in so many cleanskins, you're going to have accidents," he said.
"There is no excuse for these companies not to spend money on safety."
Technology improvements were keeping miners safer, but Mr Smyth said "complacency and apathy" could easily cause a death on a site.
OFF TO WORK WE GO
A snapshot of mining accidents:
- Aug 2011: Worker burning rubbish when an aerosol can exploded causing burns to his face.
- Sept 2011: Fitter hammering "teeth" on a mining bucket chipped off chunk of steel that lodged in the upper arm.
- Oct 2011: Three new workers entered quarry without permission. They were found as others were preparing to detonate explosives nearby.
- Nov 2011: Fitter repairing tracks of bulldozer with a crowbar and pipe extension. Crowbar slipped and pipe hit him between the eyes.
- Dec 2011: A 100kg lump of coal fell close to where a worker was maintaining equipment.
- Jan 2012: Fireworks assistant burnt after it "flowerpotted" or exploded at chest height - second and third degree burns to hand and face. Was wearing safety equipment.