Mining is one of the industries that has, so far, remained operational during the COVID-19 outbreak across the country.
While it’s a relief that most jobs have been maintained, we understand that continuing to work is causing stress and anxiety for Members, who have faced continually changing rules and working conditions as well as worrying about their own and their families’ health.
Most mining companies are taking the issue seriously and implementing protocols around social distancing and hygiene in line with government health advice. However, some employers need to lift their game and some sites need to improve consistency in how measures are applied.
CFMEU members have reported a range of concerns from lack of enforced social distancing on site to overcrowding of vehicles and lack of sanitation for machinery and equipment. These concerns have been and continue to be investigated and addressed by Union safety inspectors and state regulators.
In addition to managing the risks associated with COVID-19, mine operators must of course continue to comply with all existing health and safety requirements under various legislation and must not use the pandemic as a green light to water down current employment or safety standards. The industry can’t afford to go backwards on safety as it addresses the new challenges associated with COVID-19.
As well as the risks of workers contracting COVID-19, we are also aware that there are other increased risks. These include mental health, with high stress levels for all workers at the moment. Non-residential workers are facing particular challenges, with some having to relocate interstate to avoid border closures and greater restrictions on movement and exercise opportunities for workers in camp accommodation.
Fatigue is another challenge, with some rosters changing to limit transport movements there are concerns about the fatigue implications of changed and longer roster patterns. We know that some workers are also trying to catch up on sleep in houses full of family members working and learning from home, which can be extremely difficult.
The Union is committed to working with you to address and resolve every issue that comes up.
All Members should remember that every mine and power station in Australia is covered by strong health and safety laws, including protections against any adverse action being taken against workers who raise a safety concern.
We encourage any worker with a concern that their health and safety is not being protected in relation to COVID-19 to raise this in the first instance through existing issue resolution procedures in place at their mine site.
If the issue is not addressed to the worker’s satisfaction, or they would like additional support, it should be raised with the site safety and health representative or a Union site or District representative.
Members should be reassured that they are protected by law when it comes to raising safety concerns. With COVID-19 as with any workplace safety issue, enforcing safety depends on workers standing up and speaking out – with the full support of the Union backing them up.