Illawarra Coal, BHP Billiton – February 2004

Occupational hygiene issues such as respirable dust and diesel exhaust fumes are well known to those within the coal industry but many other occupational hygiene issues are not well understood and thus not adequately evaluated. Consequently, the aim of the project was to quantify the effect on the workforce of all occupational hygiene issues identified at the BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal mines in a systematic and scientific manner and to develop a management plan to control unacceptable exposures. As such a task is a significant undertaking, a Working Group, comprising workforce and management representatives, site safety/training officers plus external occupational hygiene and medical professionals, was formed to identify potential issues, assign priorities to each issue, evaluate the level of risk, develop control strategies and to oversee the implementation of any agreed controls. This process identified nineteen (19) key issues and a procedure to evaluate each on a risk-based priority over a three to five year period.

The first issues that were evaluated were dust (respirable and inhalable), noise and hazardous substances. A statistically based monitoring programme has been implemented to monitor the workplace of all work groups within BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal operations for dust and noise. Sampling has been conducted using a random sampling schedule over a 16-week period (January – May 2003) on all shifts and days of the week.

Evaluation of the other identified issues is continuing in accordance with the level of risk identified by the Working Group.

Results obtained to date suggest significant occupational hygiene issues exist within the underground coal mining industry, eg excessive noise exposure. Measures to reduce employee exposure to excessive levels of chemical or physical agents are being investigated and implemented if effective.