Man in miningIt has been stated by a wide variety of experts on numerous occasions over the last few years that Australia’s minerals and resources exports have played a significant role in protecting Australia from much of the financial turmoil being experienced throughout the rest of the world. It makes sense, therefore, that we do all we can to protect our mining industry – but what exactly does
that entail?

Surface mining, underground mining, minerals processing and construction facilities are all environments that possess unique challenges and risks in the areas of safety and security. While each site is different, they all share a common principle – safety and health above all else. However, as a secondary concern, the protection of company assets is also of paramount importance in ensuring a sustainable operation.

In order to protect life, ensure safety and protect company assets, anyone engaged to provide security services in the mining sector needs to be mindful of the myriad unique security challenges. For example, there are a host safety issues, including hazards, potential injuries and damage, which need to be addressed. One must also be aware of and manage issues such as site-access compliance, including company inductions, accommodation-camp management, emergency response and so on.

External to the day-to-day running of the operation, one must also plan for, monitor and manage issues such as protestor activity, including threats to the operation from a wide variety of people ranging from environmental groups through to potential terrorist threats, as well as managing any number of confrontations that can erupt between internal and external groups on any given day.

It is also worth noting that the general demographic of the workforce in the mining security industry is about 85 per cent male; however, in some of the regional areas this changes to about 60 per cent, as the flexible working hours suit some domestic situations.

Weather conditions, in particular in north and central Queensland and north-west Australia, are subject to cyclones and heavy rainfall. This has meant that security teams in these regions in the past have not been able to change shifts, as was the case during Cyclone Yasi, for example.

One must also be aware of and plan for the limited availability of telecommunications due to the remoteness of sites, as well as the dangers of having staff drive in to and out of sites in areas remote areas such as central Queensland. This simple task alone presents significant risks to staff by way of encountering wide-load vehicles, wildlife, fatigue and so on. Last but by no means least, let us not forget the challenge of finding appropriately qualified security personal who are ready for work in a mine environment.

Understanding The Nature Of Mining Security

Whilst these issues to some extent confront the industry as a whole, the very nature of the fact that the mining locations are outside the mainstream population areas significantly contributes to the logistical challenge of service delivery. The remoteness of these sites, combined with the high risk associated with the operational processing of the industry sectors, access control and security management, is critical to ensuring the safety of all personnel on site.

Added to these already significant challenges, the rostering of related security personnel can cause complications, such as when both parents of a child are employed in critical roles. One can begin to develop a picture of scope and magnitude of what is involved in running a security operation in the mining sector.

To further complicate matters, coal mining in Queensland and New South Wales has additional qualification requirements to the Security Licence. Additional challenges that face our industry as Queensland moves to more of a fly-in/fly-out focus on staff management lie in ensuring that security officers who are based in the major cities are appropriately trained. Requirements for the coal mining industry include:

  • Coal Board Medical
  • Surface Generic Induction/Standard 11 (three-day course)
  • A drug and alcohol test no later than five days prior to an induction at a mine.

Addressing And Overcoming Challenges In Mining Security

The first step in managing site-security issues is to identify and assess all risk factors applicable to the individual site.

Once the identification process is complete, a specific site-security plan is developed as a resource document to illustrate the objectives, strategies and responsibilities required to meet the site’s safety, health and security goals.

While the provision of security involves carefully designed systems, processes and technology, it is primarily about people. An experienced security team can assist in the maintenance of a safety culture, reduce expenditure due to theft and control access to ensure only authorised personnel can enter a site. These tasks are all vital to achieving the objectives set in the site-security plan.

Any successful security plan for a mining environment must incorporate a comprehensive site-security training program. Staff must also be given appropriate risk management training as well as the tools needed for identifying hazards and taking the appropriate action when such hazards are discovered.

One must also include provisions for the control of access points through appropriate systems and procedures while also putting in place effective communication and customer service procedures, which include conflict resolution processes and strategies to avoid escalation.

Drug and alcohol testing are also extremely important issues that must form a part of any successful security plan for a mining site, as are fatigue-management plans, off-site travel and journey management and visitor escorts. Security staff must also be thoroughly trained in emergency management, procedures and equipment, as well as such mundane but necessary tasks as vehicle and bag searches, key-control management and auditing, regular patrols and visual awareness, incident response, investigation and action, and report writing and communication of allsecurity-related matters.

Of course, one must also ensure that all security staff undergo and maintain certification in areas such as the Coal Board Medical – Security Fitness Profile and Surface Generic Inductions (Standard 11) – a three-day accredited course.

Reducing The Cost Of Security Operations

Implementing and maintaining all of these requirements is, in reality, an extremely costly process. However, much of this cost can be offset, at least in part, by integrating systems, equipment and procedures developed for security into other areas of the mining operation. Increasingly companies are utilising technology designed for one
specific function to assist with a vast array of different roles within a mine site or regional area.

CCTV, high-speed broadband and digital radio are prime examples of technologies that have been adapted to enable major corporations to relocate significant portions of their operational roles into a metropolitan area, thereby reducing fly-in/fly-out and accommodation costs, as well as increasing significantly the pool of employees they are able to draw on.

Rio Tinto, for example, controls remote mining operations throughout Western Australia from its state-of-the-art operations centre in the international airport precinct.

Logistics systems already allow for the booking of flights, accommodation and travel through a centralised system that in many cases is rolled out to site contractors and suppliers, thereby allowing for much easier tracking of incoming and outgoing personnel and equipment.

Protecting Australia’s mining operations is about more than simply protecting people and assets, it is about protecting Australia’s future. If the global economy continues to fluctuate in the manner forecast for the next few years, our ability to deliver strong mineral and resource exports will have a significant impact on this country’s ability to remain insulated from economic decline. Doing so will depend heavily on skilled, well-trained and well-prepared security staff and security providers to protect and ensure the ongoing, uninterrupted operation of one of our most valuable sectors.

Robert Oreljis the General Manager of Global Security Management. Robert has extensive security operations experience at mining and resources sites throughout Western Australia. Joining resources industry security specialists Global Security Management in 2002, his responsibilities include providing security risk management and critical support to the company’s key business partners. 

Bridie Thomas is the Regional Manager for North & Central Queensland at Wilson Security. Bridie joined Wilson Security in May 2006 and has since held a number of project and operational management roles within the organisation. Bridie relocated from Melbourne to Mackay in July 2011 to manage Wilson Security’s North & Central Queensland regional operations.