The mining industry has made significant improvements in health and safety over the last decade, reducing the incidence rate of both fatalities and serious injuries. However, the industry continues to rank in the top five of all industries that suffer the highest worker fatality rate. Attwood Marshall Lawyers Compensation Law Associate Tina Davis discusses what workers in the mining industry face and how to seek rehabilitation and compensation if you are injured while working in this sector.
The mining sector is notoriously a dangerous industry to work in. Although working in this field can be lucrative, there are additional risks workers face when they go to work each day.
Physical injuries account for the majority of workers’ compensation claims made by mining workers, however, psychological claims are also on the rise.
Although psychological injury claims are less prominent than physical injury claims, workers’ compensation payouts for psychological injuries cost more than double those of physical injuries, with workers suffering from a psychological injury generally reported to be off work longer than those recovering from a physical injury.
The most common physical injuries suffered by mining workers are as a result of vehicle collisions, followed closely by falls from height, being injured by falling objects, and body stressing injuries from manual labour.
As for psychological injuries, these generally arise in the course of employment when a mining worker experiences a traumatic event, workplace bullying and/or harassment or unreasonable action has been taken by management.
If physical injuries are not treated or managed appropriately, this can also trigger psychological impact or emotional trauma.
There continues to be too many stories of workers in this dangerous sector suffering from catastrophic injuries, mental health deterioration, and tragic deaths.
New Safety Inquiry for Queensland Mining Sector
The Queensland Government is set to initiate a parliamentary inquiry into the coal mining industry, investigating its health and safety culture and how it has acted on recommendations from a report released by The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry.
The Queensland Coal Mining Board of Inquiry was established in 2020 to examine the underground explosion at the Grosvenor Mine. The Board made 65 recommendations for improving Health and Safety in the coal mining industry.
The Inquiry is expected to allow more information to be gained about what the coal mining industry is doing to reduce harm to workers and to hear from other stakeholders.
Separately, almost 1,000 people are currently attending the Queensland Mining Industry Health and Safety Conference on the Gold Coast, with hundreds more attending online in anticipation of what is to come for the mining sector. The Conference will provide the industry with an opportunity to exchange information and foster proactive health and safety management techniques.
Why is the Queensland Mining Industry in the spotlight?
In Queensland, the total number of serious accidents, and the frequency rate, fell in all sectors – except for surface minerals in 2019-2020 compared to 2018-2019. Unfortunately, surface minerals saw a doubling of the number of serious accidents and a consequent doubling of the ‘Serious Accident Frequency Rates’ (SAFR) for that sector.
A serious accident is defined as an accident that causes the death of a worker or necessitates a worker to be admitted to the hospital as an in-patient. The serious accident frequency rate (SAFR) refers to the calculation made in a workplace regarding the number of injuries that happened to employees in a given period of working hours. The rate shows how safe working conditions are for the employees of the company. The SAFR provides an insight into the efficacy of safety controls on mine and quarry sites and is a specific and objective measure of safety in the industry.
During 2019-2020 there was a range of fatal accidents that occurred within the Queensland Mining Industry. Two fatalities happened at surface coal mines, and one fatality occurred at an underground coal mine. In addition, were a large number of incidents that left mine workers seriously injured. Operators in the mining sector have an obligation to report serious accidents as soon as possible after an event takes place. During 2014-2015, the average time for all mines and quarries to report an accident to the inspectorate was 6.3 hours. For the last reporting year, that time has increased to 7.8 hours.
Generally, reports of serious accidents should be made within three hours of occurrence, therefore, the delay in reporting these incidents remains a critical concern for the industry.
What to do if you are injured on the job
If you are injured at work, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation.
There are two types of WorkCover claims you can apply for depending on your injuries, the circumstances around how your injury occurred, and what benefits you may need to support your recovery.
The first is a Statutory Benefit (“No Fault”) Claim – which can provide compensation for medical treatment expenses, income payments, return to work assistance, and potentially a lump sum payment for permanent impairment caused by the injury.
At the end of a statutory benefits claim, an injured worker may consider whether to proceed onwards to the second type of WorkCover claim known as a “Common Law” Claim.
A Common Law Claim may be available to someone who has suffered a work injury due to their employer’s negligence. This can result from unsafe work systems, negligent co-workers, faulty equipment, lack of training or inadequate procedures.
Unlike a Statutory Benefits Claim, a Common Law Claim will compensate an eligible worker for their past and future losses incurred as a result of the injury.
To receive compensation, you must first lodge a WorkCover claim form, and your WorkCover claim must be accepted. WorkCover will process the claim and will aim to make a decision on the matter within 20 business days or less. This is outlined by legislation. Occasionally WorkCover can take longer to assess your claim if you do not provide them with all the information, they need from the get-go.
If your claim is approved, you will be entitled to the appropriate payment and support available for your specific circumstances.
If your claim is rejected, or WorkCover cease your payments suddenly, you can ask for the decision to be reviewed by the Workers Compensation Regulator.
To give your claim the best chance of success and to ensure you can gain access to all that you are entitled to, it is important to seek independent legal advice from an experienced workers’ compensation lawyer to understand your rights and obligations, and to ensure you follow the process correctly from the start.
If your claim has ceased, and you don’t believe you have the capacity to return to work, you may be able to make a TPD (total and permanent disablement) claim on your superannuation benefits.
Almost everyone who holds superannuation has TPD Benefits available to them in the event they suffer an injury and can no longer work.
It is important to understand your TPD insurance policy to know when you may be able to access these entitlements, and what value your policy holds. At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we can do a search on any superannuation accounts you hold to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of your complete benefits available.
In Queensland, time limitations do apply if you suffer an injury at work and wish to claim workers’ compensation. You must lodge your WorkCover claim within six months of the injury happening. The six-month time limit is not always final; however, a worker must make every effort to comply.
After the initial time limit, there is a three-year time limitation from the date of injury to initiate a common law claim, or your claim will be prohibited. It can extend if you have not yet completed your statutory benefits claim.
The earlier you seek legal assistance, the easier it is to protect your entitlements and ensure you act within the required timeframes.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers – experts in handling WorkCover claims
If you have sustained an injury in the workplace and need advice, contact our Compensation Law Department on 1800 621 071.
We offer free, initial, no-obligation consultations so that you can understand what entitlements you may be eligible to claim, and you can get your claim underway as quickly as possible.
Our Compensation lawyers exclusively practice in this complex area of law and are able to assist with all types of claims, including workers’ compensation, motor vehicle accident claims, public liability, TPD, superannuation claims, and historical sexual abuse claims. It is our intent to help people and change their lives for the better.
Every worker has the right to return home safe and healthy at the end of each day.