Incidents go unreported but study lauds mining safety behaviours

“Let’s be clear – everyone has the right to be safe at work.”

With this statement, Industrial Relations Minister Simone McGurk says the fourth report in the landmark study into mental health and workplace culture across Western Australia’s mining sector released last week gives an insight into issues still affecting workers.

The Mental Awareness, Respect and Safety (MARS) Program Landmark Study: Insights from the Worker Survey and Interviews spoke to 2,550 WA mine workers to understand their perceptions of mental health awareness, respect, and safety.

While mental health issues are becoming increasingly more prominent in the workplace, the report highlights that under-reporting of ‘notifiable incidents’ and near misses are very much prevalent in the industry.

Although 25% of serious incidents and one-third of close calls are either not divulged to managers or supervisors (or they are but they are not formally documented), the report still concludes the state’s mine sites collectively exhibit ‘high levels’ of safety behaviours.

‘notifiable incidents’ are defined as: “Incidents that arise out of the conduct of a business and include the death of a person, a serious injury or illness, and a dangerous incident.”

The report found about 1 in 4 ‘notifiable incidents’ in the past 12 months went unreported, while 1 in 3 near misses during the same period were also unreported.

This rate of under-reporting – while the report acknowledges is still something to address – is lower in comparison to the benchmark sample comprising workers from other industries.

In the study’s glossary of terms ‘notifiable incidents’ are defined as: “Incidents that arise out of the conduct of a business and include the death of a person, a serious injury or illness, and a dangerous incident.”

That means about a quarter of all incidents arising across Western Australia’s mining sector as consequential as a death, or deemed dangerous, or has led to serious injury or illness, went unreported.

Paradoxically, the report highlights that despite this, a key takeaway is most WA mining workers are adopting high levels of safety behaviours such as safety compliance (88%) and safety participation (78%).

Further, the safety behaviours of these mining workers are ‘significantly’ higher than workers in the benchmark sample from other industries (73% reported high levels of safety compliance; 56% reported high levels of safety participation).

The report’s authors add: “This finding suggests worker safety behaviour is a strength for many in the sector and are consistent with mining being a safety critical industry in which workers’ safety orientation need to be consistently held at very high levels”.

As reported by in November, one Australian is killed in the workplace every few days.

Safe Work Australia data shows that the transport, postal, and warehousing sector has the worst record for workplace fatalities, followed by construction, and agriculture, forestry, and fishing (19).

Mining is at the lower end, however at the time of publication in November 2023, this news service reported there had been 2 more fatalities in the resources sector at that same time in 2023.

AMEC Chief Executive Officer Warren Pearce says the industry is under no illusion that there is still more to do.

A second key issue highlighted by this research is toxic cultures of bullying and sexual harassment, especially for women. The negative affect of experiencing sexual harassment on mental health and well-being is a clear and important finding.

The reports notes that industry appears to have made progress in weeding out explicit and overt forms of sexual harassment, but covert forms of sexual harassment such as sexism and misogyny remain high, with 5-41% of women mining workers reported experiencing behaviours of sexist and sexual hostility sometimes, often, or very often within the past 12 months. Some 3-11% of men experienced the same.

Experienced levels of sexual harassment were strongly linked to negative outcomes such as psychological distress and intention to leave. To attract more women to the workforce, retain women, and prevent harm to women, sexual harassment must not be tolerated, the report says.

McGurk says: “For too long, bullying, harassment and sexism have been all too present in our workplaces. Eliminating these sorts of inappropriate behaviours from our workplaces remains a priority for the Cook government.”

AMEC’s Pearce adds, with a clear challenge evident in the report of poor mental health and well-being struggles facing women and younger workers in the sector.

“Physical safety has been a core focus of the mining industry over many decades, but there is also a much stronger awareness and focus on mental health and well-being now

“Physical safety has been a core focus of the mining industry over many decades, but there is also a much stronger awareness and focus on mental health and well-being now.”

Although the mining industry has taken necessary steps to understand and improve mental health and workplace culture, the survey found that issues such as burnout and sexual harassment persist.

Reports of sexual coercion and unwanted sexual attention are declining, however, covert forms of sexual harassment like sexism and misogyny remain. Bullying is showing signs of improvement but continues to disproportionately impact women compared to men.

McGurk says overall, women and younger workers generally tended to report poorer mental health and well-being. However, supports such as mental health awareness training and informal check-ins were cited as being helpful for protecting workers’ mental health and wellbeing.

She also notes other positive trends identified in relation to rosters for FIFO workers, with more workers being employed in even-time rosters and permanent accommodation compared to five years ago.

Curtin University’s Centre for Transformative Work Design is undertaking the 4-year landmark study to gather and evaluate data on sexual assault, harassment, mental health, drug and alcohol use, and emerging mine safety issues.

Curtin’s first three preliminary reports mapped current industry practices, completed a literature review and conducted a workplace policy and practice survey. Curtin will present its final research report in 2026.

Pearce concludes by saying: “There is no reason, or excuse, for a worker in the WA mining industry to have their physical or mental health and safety put at risk.”

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Images: WA government
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Written By Adam Orlando Editor-in-Chief Adam Orlando has more than 20 years’ experience in the media having held senior roles at various publications, including as Asia-Pacific Sector Head (Mining) at global newswire Acuris (formerly Mergermarket). Orlando has worked in newsrooms around the world including Hong Kong, Singapore, London, and Sydney.