Downturn may pose drilling safety cost

SAFETY trainers have sounded a warning over a risk of injuries occurring in the drilling industry with the increase in activity caused by the recent minerals boom.

In recent years the exploration industry, including parts of the drilling industry, has been in the doldrums.

Statistics indicate that the exploration industry shrunk to about 25 per cent of its previous size during the minerals slow-down.

With that downturn a number of experienced operators left the industry.

Now, as a result of the upswing, some are returning. A number of those to leave have gone on to forge new careers in different fields of endeavour, however.

One source said he feared the same accidents that had plagued the drilling industry about 10 years ago would start returning because the corporate experience gained by those workers who had left the industry was lost.

“These blokes learnt why some of the rules were in place and how things could go wrong. They’ve left and now there is a concern that the new blokes that have taken their place do not have that same experience,” he said.

“I reckon we’re going to see the same cycle of accidents start coming through.”

The source said there was also a concern for some of the older players returning to the industry.

“They’ve been out for a while and the technology has moved on,” he said.

However, the drilling industry, particularly in the exploration sector, does not share that view.

Exploration Safety Information Group member Ian Brown said the drilling industry was safer than it had been.

“The internal management systems of the larger players have become very robust,” he said.

“One example is [that] the sort of communications between drilling companies and clients over safety issues is much greater. It’s much more formalised than it used to be.

“Also, a lot of the cowboys that were in the industry left when the slump came and moved on into other areas.

“The people who operate in that industry also have to comply with the same legislation that is on the mines.”

The Department of Industry and Resources oversees that legislation.

DoIR Safety, Health and Environment Division general manager mine safety, Martin Knee, said the Mines Safety Inspection Act required employers and employees to have a duty of care to meet their occupational safety and health responsibilities.

“For the employer this includes the specific responsibility of ensuring that employees are competent in performing duties related to their work, prior to undertaking those duties,” he told WA Business News.

“Companies that operate in the WA mining sector are required to adhere to legislation set out by government and regulated by the DoIR.”

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