Loss of reps a safety threat

QUEENSLAND'S top mine safety academic has warned any loss of worker-elected safety representatives could erode the state's world-leading protection for its workers.

On Tuesday, APN revealed four BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance mines had vacancies for the roles on four of its Central Queensland mines as debate continued over whether BHP or the miners' union should run the ballots.

It followed the death of a mine worker near Moranbah in Central Queensland earlier this month.

University of Queensland professor of occupational health David Cliff described the "safety reps" as an integral part of the process.

"To me, for our legislation to be effective and world-leading, we need that representation," Prof Cliff said.

Adding an industrial relations fight to mix, Prof Cliff said workers may be more reluctant to report dangers on a site.

"The (safety reps) provide a vehicle that protects the worker," he said.

"They have powers independent of management."

These safety reps are elected by colleagues but must themselves be employed on the site.

They act as a link between workers and the company when they are concerned about delivering criticism to the mine's management.

BMA's Peak Downs, Crinum, Saraji and Norwich Park are without the critical staff, while Rio Tinto's Clermont mine has installed an interim replacement.

Both companies still have comprehensive safety strategies in place for workers to report incidents or concerns.

Queensland Resources Council chief Michael Roche said the group - which advocates for 95 mining companies - advocated for the State Government to have elections for safety reps held by either mine management or the Australian Electoral Commission.

From February 17 this year, the final decision would be made by the State Government.

Mr Roche said the QRC was not aware of these changes causing delays to elections.

In a letter to APN newspapers, Mines Minister Andrew Cripps said these changes were not in response from lobbying and did not diminish safety standards.

"Queensland mine safety regulation is among the most stringent in the world, and is considered a benchmark for the safe operation of coalmines," Mr Cripps said.

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