Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 January 2017
Notwithstanding impressive gains in occupational safety across the Australian coal mining sector, this research reveals that even within the same company, some mines substantially outperform others in terms of safety outcomes, raising questions as to why, notwithstanding the introduction of sophisticated and systemic risk management mandated by government, such variation still exists. Potential contributory variables are considered (technology, physical environment, management systems), and discarded, before examining the role of safety culture. Drawing on qualitative (interviews) and quantitative research (safety statistics and audit results) it was found that distinctive patterns of site and context specific cultural factors align to safety performance. The article provides insights as to whether, to what extent or in what circumstances site specific cultural variables, served to undermine or reinforce the effectiveness of the company's overall risk management strategy.
1 Department of Natural Resources and Mines, “Coal Underground Safety Statistics 2007-2012”, 2012, available on the internet at: <http://mines.industry.qld.gov.au/safety-and-health/coal-underground-safety-statistics.htm> (last accessed on 20 August 2013). Department of Natural Resources and Mines, “Annual Performance Report, 2011-12”, 2012, available on the internet at: <http://mines.industry.qld.gov.au/assets/safety-and-health/Commissioner-Mine-Safety-Health-Annual-Performance-Report-2011-2012.pdf> (last accessed on 22 August 2013).
3 S Gadd and AM Collins, “Safety Culture: A Review of the Literature”, Health & Safety Laboratory, (2002), HSL/2002/25, available on the internet at: <http://www.hse.gov.uk/research/hsl_pdf/2002/hsl02-25.pdf> (last accessed 22 November 2013). Guldenmund, Frank, “The Nature of Safety and Culture: A review of Theory and Research”, 34 Safety Science (2000), pp. 215 et sqq CrossRefGoogle Scholar..
4 See for example, Consortium of Social Science Associations, ‘”Operationalizing Culture” for Health Behavior and Social Sciences’, June 2014, available at http://www.cossa.org/volume33/OperationalizingCulture.pdf accessed 26 Oct 2014.
6 The five-year period was chosen because it corresponded to the period in which corporate management had imposed uniform OHS standards and systems across the five mine sites, and it also minimises the chance of annual aberrations in OHS performance outcomes.
7 The most recent year's data was given a weighting of five, the next most recent data was given a weighting of four and so on until the five-year old data was given a weighting of one. This was done to reflect the greater likelihood that more recent data would accurately reflect current circumstances, but at the same time attempting to smooth our results over a longer time frame so as to minimise annual anomalies.
8 Andrew Hopkins, Lessons from Longford, (North Ryde, NSW: CCH Australia, 2002). Critics point out that there are many mechanisms and practices that result in workers under-reporting injuries – making many commentators rightly suspicious of reliance upon LTIFRs as a measure of injury levels (Erik Ekevall, Brian Gillespie and Lina Riege, “Improving Safety Performance in the Australian Mining Industry Through Enhanced Reporting”, Performance Improvement Group, Brisbane, Price Waterhouse Coopers, August 2008, available on the internet at: <http://www.qrc.org.au/conference/_dbase_upl/Papers2008_Ekevall.pdf> (last accessed on 22 November 2013)). However, in the jurisdiction in question, LTIFRs have become much less capable of manipulation since it was made a statutory requirement to also report injuries to the regulator. In any event, for purposes of our analysis LTIFRs are just one of the multiple measures that we use to ‘triangulate’ (validating our data through cross verification). Moreover, we do not rely on LTIFRs as a measure of injury levels, but merely suggest that at most, they might be one (but only one) useful indicator of relative safety performance if the degree of underreporting is consistent across mines. We cannot be sure that this is the case but there is nothing in our interviews with union officials or a diversity of other industry insiders to suggest it is not. It is also noted that the safety statistics employed in the quantitative ranking gave equal weighting to TRIFRs that, arguably, are far more difficult to manipulate.
10 Coglianese and Lazer, “Management Based Regulation”, supra note 5. Gunningham, Neil, Mine Safety: Law, Regulation, Policy (Sydney: The Federation Press, 2007), at Chapter 2Google Scholar.
11 Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) s 62.
12 See Gunningham Mine Safety, supra note 10, at Chapter 1. Coal Mine Health and Safety Act 2002 (NSW) s 23.
13 Coal Mine Health and Safety Act 2002 (NSW) ss 19-23, 32.
14 Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) ss 62, 63. Gunningham Mine Safety, supra note 10, pp. 26-31.
15 Contrary to the substantial literature that the most critical safe behaviour is that of managers the company's approach was exclusively worker-oriented (see: Hopkins, Lessons from Longford, supra note 8; Vaughan, Diane, The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture and Deviance at NASA (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1996)Google Scholar.
16 See Hopkins, Lessons from Longford, supra note 8; and for broader reviews of risk management development development see Frick, Kaj, Jensen, Per Langaa, Quinlan, Michael and Wilthagen, Ton (eds.), Systematic Occupational Health and Safety Management: Perspectives on an International Development (Oxford: Pergamon, 2000)Google Scholar.
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24 Clarke, “The Relationship between Safety Climate and Safety Performance”, supra note 2. Silbey, “Taming Prometheus”, supra note 20.
26 Cooper, “Towards a Model of Safety Culture”, supra note 25.
27 Ibid, at p. 119.
28 Schein, Organisational Culture and Leadership, supra note 17.
29 UK HSE (Health and Safety Executive), Third Report: Organizing for Safety, supra note 19.
30 Cooper, “Towards a Model of Safety Culture”, supra note 25, at pp. 121-123.
31 James Reason, “Beyond the Limitations of Safety Systems”, Australian Safety News, April 2000.
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34 Willcoxson, Lesley and Millet, Bruce, (2000). “The Management of Organisational Culture”, 3 Australian Journal of Management & Organisational Behaviour (2000), pp. 91 et sqq Google Scholar..
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38 Reason, James, Managing the Risks of Organisational Accidents (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 1997)Google Scholar.
39 Cooper, “ Towards a Model of Safety Culture”, supra note 25.
40 While noting the considerable volume of literature that suggests that a powerful trade union committed to OHS issues is a strong determinant of improved OHS outcomes (Gunningham, Mine Safety, supra note 10, at Chapter 9).
41 Cooper, “Towards a Model of Safety Culture”, supra note 25.
42 We make no comment concerning health, since no reliable statistics are available.