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How dangerous are careers in the mining sector?

Peter Nicholls

Mining is an inherently risky occupation. As such, it’s natural to wonder how dangerous your own career in mining might be.

Mining is an inherently risky occupation, with dangers ranging from mine collapses to inhalation of harmful particles. As such, it’s natural to wonder how dangerous your own career in mining might be. Here, there is some good news and some not so good news.

The good news is that the mining industry has made significant improvements in health and safety over the past decade, significantly reducing the rates of injury, fatality, and work-related disease.

The not so good news is that the mining industry still has one of the highest fatality rates of any sector (coming in fifth, after agriculture, transportation, construction, and manufacturing). In the 12 years to 2015, the fatality rate in the mining industry decreased by 65% from 12.4 worker fatalities per 100 000 workers in 2003, to 4.4 in 2015. The mining industry still has the third highest fatality rate of any industry with an average of 9 workers dying each year.

What are the risks?

The risks to which you’re exposed in a mining job vary widely based on what that job entails: it goes without saying, for example, that mining labourers will be exposed to more potential harm than, say, computer technicians or process engineers.

Nevertheless, the nature of mine operations means that many employees may be exposed to risky situations. According to Safe Work Australia, the chief injuries experienced in mines relate to: body stress caused by manual handling (such as lifting heavy items), slips and falls, being hit by moving objects or machinery, and working with high-risk equipment.

Another issue of some concern are mine dust lung diseases, which are caused by prolonged exposure to high concentrations of respirable dust generated by activities such as drilling, quarrying, and the transportation of minerals. Such diseases include asbestosis, silicosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

How are you protected by legislation?

After reading the section above, you could be forgiven for thinking that a career in mining is a surefire way to drastically reduce your life expectancy. Happily, this isn’t the case. An extensive network of regulations and workplace standards exist to minimise the risk of harm to mining workers. The relevant legislation is usually enforced at the state level, and you can find it by clicking on the relevant jurisdiction: New South Wales, Victoria (see chapter five), Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory, and the Northern Territory.

What can you do to stay safe?

Mine operators have an obligation to provide with all necessary training to ensure that you’re familiar with the protocols and regulations in place to keep you safe. The best way to minimise your exposure to harm is to follow these guidelines carefully and report any dangers to an occupational health and safety officer.

You should also be aware that the mining industry has a slightly higher rate of mental health issues when compared to other industries, with one in five mining workers reporting that they’ve experienced depression or anxiety within the past twelve months. Resources like BeyondBlue can help you identify the early warning signs of mental illness and implement strategies, such as mindfulness and counselling, to keep you mentally healthy.