1.0 Introduction

Large and/or multiple mining operations generate opportunities for and challenges to the communities in which they operate—influencing the lives of workers, workers’ families, mining communities, rural communities, Indigenous communities and the wider region. Change can occur on many levels—economic, social, environmental, individual and so on. Mining activity commonly boosts the economic growth of regions, builds the capacity of local communities through vocational training and employment, and adds much-needed infrastructure to underserviced towns in remote areas. Conversely, mining workforce ‘in-migrations’ can alter the social identity of local towns, cause housing shortages, particularly for low-income and Indigenous groups, and place pressure on often already under-resourced local services.

Features of the mine, the community and the external environment contribute to how a community might be affected by mining activity. Mining operations have a life cycle: at each stage, factors such as workforce numbers, work tasks, the locality of tasks and the use of equipment differ. Figure 1.1 highlights the confluence of the life-of-mine and life-of-community to prompt further insight into how the different mining stages might differentially affect the various social groups of neighbouring communities and regions. A mining company that has not taken constructive action to close a mine can potentially leave a negative environmental legacy that affects the health and safety of the continuum of groups in the life of the community. As the model suggests, exposure can occur through environmental, social and economic channels. Spills from abandoned mine pits can result in the discharge of acid and heavy metals into river catchments, seas and oceans—damaging the livelihood and health of local farmers as well as fishermen in coastal regions.

Figure 1.1: Life-of-mine/life-of-community (LOMLOC) matrix

Figure 1.1: Life-of-mine/life-of-community (LOMLOC) matrix

Source: Kirsch et al. (2012)

This handbook considers one aspect of the influence that mining operations can have on local communities— that of health and safety. This includes the traumatic injury risks and diseases that people may incur due to mining activity. Traumatic injury risks include trips, slips and falls and being hit by moving objects. Examples of occupation-related diseases include mental disorders, noise-induced hearing loss, infectious and parasitic diseases and respiratory disease. Mining operations can also generate positive health and safety behaviours in local communities. They can provide education and support to community members and groups to promote important social issues, such as mental health issues, provide sporting and medical equipment and facilities, and bring more general health benefits associated with long-term employment.

Mining is a high-risk industry with operating hazards that can have serious health and safety consequences. Those primarily at risk are mine workers, but some mining hazards can also present health and safety risks to people living in the vicinity of the mining lease. A list of mine operational hazards is shown in Table 1.1 and over half of them could affect people living in the vicinity of the mine. A mine fire, for instance, could put at risk the health and safety of both workers and people living near to the mine. In contrast, an underground inrush event causing a sudden inflow of water into mine workings would generally only affect the safety of mine workers. Mining workplace health and safety (WHS) legislation requires that all foreseeable hazards be identified and controlled to an acceptable level of risk (see Section 2.1.2).

Table 1.1: Examples of mine-generated risk to mine worker and community

MINING HAZARD MINE WORKER COMMUNITY
Mine fire
Fall of ground—surface or underground  
Tyre explosion/fire/loss  
Loss of control of vehicles
Loss of control of explosives
Underground explosion  
Manual tasks, slips, trips or falls  
Inrush event  
Outburst event  
Loss of control of tailings dams
Health issues    
  • Dust in atmosphere
  • Diesel exhaust emissions
 
  • Hazardous substances—gases, vapours, solids or liquids
  • Noise
  • Thermal environment
 
  • Ionising & non-ionising radiation
 
  • Vibration
  • Asbestos and synthetic mineral fibre
 
  • Waterborne contaminants
  • Fatigue
  • Misuse of alcohol and drugs
  • Physical illness, disease or condition
  • Mental ill-health

Photo of a mining site

While the direction of the risk is largely from the mine to the community, the lives of workers outside the mine site have the capacity to influence the health and safety of workers on the mining lease. A worker presenting for work under the influence of or impaired by alcohol, for example, can potentially compromise workplace safety.

Integration of organisational policies, programs and practices, including those relevant to the control of hazards and exposures, the organisation of work, compensation and benefits, built environment supports, leadership, changing workforce demographics, policy issues, and community supports, will contribute to worker safety, health and wellbeing.

Workplace policies, procedures and interventions that focus on advancing the safety, health and wellbeing of the workforce are helpful for individuals, and the benefits spread to their families, communities and employers and to the economy as a whole.

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