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Evaluation of occupational health risks in the Queensland resources industry

Resources Safety and Health Queensland (RSHQ) sought stakeholder views on occupational health risks across the state’s resources industry. The re-identification of mine dust lung disease in the Queensland mining industry demonstrated that in addition to serious safety risks, preventing disease and other health harms must also be a focus.

RSHQ is developing a clear, risk-based strategy to ensure occupational health risks are effectively managed across the resources industry for coal, mineral mines and quarries, explosives and the petroleum and gas sectors. This strategy will inform RSHQ’s work priorities in regulating for health risks over the coming years, and stakeholder input is vital to ensure that work is targeted in the right areas.

Stakeholder input into the evaluation of occupational health risks was requested, including consideration of both current and emerging risks, across all Queensland resource industries. To inform this process, a baseline review of occupational health risks has also been completed.

Baseline review of occupational health risks

Commissioned by RSHQ, Ernst and Young and the University of Queensland conducted a baseline review of occupational health risks relevant to the resource sector, including controls and monitoring strategies. A selection of 16 occupational health hazards were included in the review, as well as consideration of potential emerging risks. The review incorporated available information from RSHQ, peer reviewed literature, data and reports from other regulators, including consideration of the legislative requirements relevant for each hazard.

The review concluded that all occupational health hazards identified are significant and important to measure, monitor and further control, as none would pose zero harm to resource sector workers. The focus on dusts, silica and diesel particulate matter is appropriate, given the exposure and impacts of these hazards. However, significant gaps may exist in the knowledge base for many other occupational health hazards, including limited overall monitoring and health surveillance data. Whilst there was a degree of knowledge for the risks posed by polymeric chemicals, asbestos, and lead, there was less detailed knowledge for occupational health hazards that are more difficult to physically quantify, such as psychosocial, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and vibration (both hand-arm and whole body).

Psychosocial health was identified as a standout hazard across all resource industries, with potentially significant consequences, but limited knowledge available on the state of the risk in Queensland. This is a priority action area for other regulators and the subject of several reports by other Australian resources sector regulators.  The changing nature of work, including automation, were suggested to increase the presence of psychosocial hazards in the workplace, which in turn, may increase the likelihood of a worker developing a psychological injury or illness.

The baseline review also noted the importance of recognising that many health hazards have amplifying or cumulative effects on worker health. For example, symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders are exacerbated by psychosocial hazard exposure, and vice versa. The entire occupational health risk picture needs to be considered when making decisions on how to prioritise the management of individual risks.

The baseline review serves to highlight the importance of developing improved systems for data collection, monitoring and health surveillance, while also providing an evidence base to inform prioritisation of occupational health risks across the resource sector.

Stakeholder consultation

To further inform the overall review of occupational health risks relevant to the Queensland resources industry, RSHQ sought stakeholder submissions to provide insight and feedback on current and emerging occupational health risks, across all Queensland resource industry sectors.

In considering current and emerging occupational health risks, stakeholders were asked to include feedback on the following matters:

  • What do you believe are significant current and emerging occupational health risks?
  • What associated evidence or data do you have to support this? Please provide.
  • How are these occupational health risks currently being controlled and monitored?
  • What opportunities are there for improvements in the way occupational health risks are identified, controlled, monitored and regulated in Queensland?

Consultation closed 29 October 2021.

Next steps

RSHQ is now utilising the baseline review and stakeholder submissions to inform an overall resource industry occupational health strategy and identify priority areas for action.  This will take a risk-based approach and consideration will be given to the baseline review, stakeholder submissions, available data and evidence, identified gaps and opportunities for improvement.

Further information

Should you require more information, please contact:

Last updated: 08 Feb 2022