2 minute read

Whose responsibility is it to protect workers from health and hygiene hazards on mine sites?

In January, we looked at what health and hygiene management is and what is required in a health and hygiene management plan. In this edition, we look at just who is responsible for worker exposure to health hazards, and what can be done to improve worker engagement with their own health and safety.

Health and hygiene hazards on mine sites can include dusts, chemicals, radiation, noise, extremes of temperature, ergonomic, vibration, bacteriological, fungal and illumination hazards.

When personal protective equipment (PPE), or use of portable ventilation equipment, is the only form of protection available to the worker, achieving the protection is totally dependent on this equipment being used properly. Unfortunately, it has become more common to blame the exposed worker, with the excuse of the exposure being human behaviour or error, “they didn’t follow the procedure” or “their risk assessment was inadequate”.

The Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 imposes general 'duty of care' provisions on employers to maintain safe and healthy workplaces and protect people at work from hazards. But employees have a responsibility to ensure their own safety and health at work as well.

Yes, people should follow the procedure, they should do a proper risk assessment and they should wear their PPE correctly.

However, by placing sole responsibility on the individuals involved, the organisation can lose sight of the factors underlying the behaviour or error that contribute to an exposure. In doing so, they also lose the opportunity to improve their safety systems and prevent repeat occurrences in the future.

In the long term, this approach runs the risk of driving a culture where people do not report exposures, incidents or their safety concerns, for fear of a negative outcome – no-one really wants to be blamed.

It is important to remember that human error is not the root cause, it is the outcome of a combination of factors. It is the organisation’s responsibility to identify which factors influence behaviour and then design jobs with consideration of these factors so that they influence people to behave in the preferred manner.

One approach that can be used is a combination of error risk factor reduction and error mitigation or management.

•• Error risk management (prevention) – strategies to reduce likelihood of an error being made.

•• Error management (mitigation) – strategies to ensure that errors can be identified when they happen, and that recovery from the error is possible to mitigate the outcome.

Where a task has a control measure that is dependent on human interaction, the control can be compromised by an error and that error can contribute to the failure of the intended controls. So, you need to figure out how to reduce the likelihood of an error happening and, in the event that an error is made, ensure appropriate error mitigation.