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Resource industry workers oblivious to hazards

28 February, 2013

Workers in the resources industry are starting work without the skills needed to identify hazards in the workplace, according to new research from Edith Cowan University.

The research found that in one WA-based company, new employees could identify on average just 43 per cent of hazards, with five workers unable to identify any at all.

ECU School of Management researcher Dr Susanne Bahn’s report found that new employees in the resources industry were underprepared for working in such a high-risk environment, while workers with more experience tended to become complacent with workplace risks.

Dr Bahn conducted interviews with occupational health and safety managers from a range of resources companies working in WA. Their responses included: "I think hazard ID is good. What we lack is the power to understand the ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude"; and "Blasé to the extreme and you couple that with a lack of awareness of what are the risks and hazards"; also "They either believe it’s not going to happen to them or it’s okay if I do it quickly".

Dr Bahn has called for a rethink of safety training in the resources industry focusing on practical training in identification of hazards and ongoing training for experienced employees.

"We need to go back to basics and simple ways to point out hazards in the workplace, getting out of the classroom and into the field," she said.

"Training that moves into specific work areas where hazards are identified in situ is one way we could help instil the importance of this process."

Dr Bahn said there was a need for resources companies to continue hazard identification training with workers throughout their employment to maintain a safe working environment.

The research came in two parts, with the first surveying 54 new employees at a WA-based underground mining contractor’s operations between November 2011 and February this year.

The new employees were asked to identify hazards in a series of pictures showing underground worksites after their safety induction training.

Each of the six pictures contained ten possible hazards.

The participants were, on average, only able to name 43 per cent of hazards while five were unable to identify any hazards in at least one picture.

The second part involved in depth interviews with 21 occupational health and safety managers working in some of WA’s biggest resources companies.

Dr Bahn’s report cited WorkSafe WA statistics for 2008-09 when there were six work related deaths, 386 injuries requiring more than 60 days off work and 877 injuries requiring five days off work in the mining industry.

The research has been made possible by the creation of ECU’s new resources-industry focussed Centre for Innovative Practice, which is investigating challenges across the industry.

Based in the University’s Faculty of Business and Law, the Centre will tackle issues including overseas workers, the effects of FIFO work and opportunities for indigenous workers in the industry.

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