Mining companies failing on COVID safety

Published: 19 Jan 2022

Mining companies have dropped the ball on Covid-19 control measures like social distancing and hygiene and must urgently reintroduce them as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads through the Queensland coal industry, the Mining and Energy Union said today.

Mining companies have not updated their risk management plans to take into account the new variant and have dropped most of the measures required earlier in the pandemic to ensure Covid was kept out of mines, said Queensland District President Stephen Smyth.

“We encourage people to get vaccinated to protect their own health, but it’s become very clear that mining companies can’t rely only on vaccination as a silver bullet to keep workplaces safe,” said Mr Smyth.

“Coal mines need a full range of Covid safety measures including screening through rapid testing, social distancing, provision of N95 masks and deep cleaning.

“We have a highly contagious variant spreading through our industry and regions and yet Covid safety measures have declined, not improved.

“Many safety protocols are based on corporate, not production environments. For example, workers who would be considered a close contact in an office setting for four hours are not considered a close contact if they have worked on a piece of machinery together for 10 hours, which is absurd.

“Rapid testing is not consistent in terms of what is required and when it should be done, with some workers unable to take tests as they aren’t available and others expected to undertake testing in their own time.

“Unfortunately the RSHQ Mines Inspectorate is not taking the required action to ensure our coal mines are safe. They need to step up and start holding mining companies to account for having appropriate Covid safety plans in place and implementing them.

“In the end, it will be mining companies’ short-term focus on production over the health and safety of workers that will be the biggest threat to production as more and more mineworkers become sick with Covid and unable to attend work.

“In the midst of a health crisis, they need to put people before production.”

The Mining and Energy Union does not support employer vaccination mandates in the absence of public health orders and is challenging BHP’s Site Access Requirement for all workers to show proof of vaccination by 31 January. A decision in the Fair Work Commission is expected this week.