Collaborating with industry to tackle silica dust exposure

Collaborating with industry to tackle silica dust exposure


(upbeat music) My name’s Keith Bannerman, I’m part of the Executive Committee of the Australasian Tunnelling Society. We’re a committee which was
initially founded in 1974 as a joint venture between
the Engineers Australia and the AusIMM, which is
a mining organisation, which really highlights that we cover both civil and mining aspects
in the work that we do. The members are made up
of contractors, clients, suppliers, academics
from the entire region, the Australasian region,
Australia and New Zealand. So, it’s not just purely engineers, but there are other professions involved. We’re the peak industry
for anyone digging a tunnel which is greater than a
metre, up to 30 metres. So, any hole excavated, someone from the ATS has been involved in some way, shape, or form. The ATS also has a strong
history of collaborating with regulators, whether it
was through the generation of the tunnelling code of
practice in New South Wales, or working with Safe Work Australia in the recent revision
of the tunnel guide, which was 2013 revision. We’re a group of volunteers. We are a member of EA
as a technical society. Last year, we had our
triennial tunnelling conference. I think we had about 1500
people attend over three days, multiple parallel streams
running across the three days of the tunnelling conference,
as well as tunnel visits to the M4 East and NorthConnex projects. As part of that discussion, the ATS initiated this working group. The working group brought together people from all of the major tunnelling
projects currently underway in Sydney, so, Stage 1B, Stage 2, Sydney Metro, and NorthConnex. It brought people from the client side, the contractor side, and
people from even upstream. So we had RMS representatives in the room who wouldn’t necessarily be involved in this sort of a project. This sort of a working group isn’t new for the tunnelling industry. Internationally, we’re also
affiliated with the ITA, the International Tunnelling Association, that had their World Tunnelling
Congress last week in Dubai, which I was lucky enough to attend through sponsorship from the ATS. They have 14 working groups,
one of those is a health and safety working group. As part of that initial workshop, we asked a series of
questions of the participants. The first one was, how important is it that we address the issue
of silicosis in tunnelling? Some people were
concerned what the results of this question might be. They had no need to be, the
industry has a strong history of trying to work together
and trying to address issues, whether they’re technical or safety. There’s always a very
pragmatic approach from people who are involved in
the tunnelling industry. And why was it important? There’s some great points
that are put up there. These are all by tunnelling
contractors and clients, highlighting why they
believe it’s important to deal with the issue of silicosis. And there were some pretty
common themes through there that it’s our problem, it’s our industry, we need to own the issue. The next question that was asked was about engaging with a regulator. Again, ATS and the tunnelling
industry more broadly often leads when it comes
to this sort of initiative. Again, the question was asked, how important do you think it is to collaborate with the regulator? Again, very strong correlation, one being not important to engage, five being very important. The makeup of this cohort included senior tunnelling managers from
all of the major projects and then health and safety representatives from the client organisations as well. These are some of the reasons why the attendees believed
it was important to engage. Mainly, one of the key issues, and it’s been raised a few times, is the technical understanding of, is something better than something else? Each tunnel’s different, and I think that’s important to highlight. Maybe there isn’t a one-stop shop when it comes to solving
the silica problem. Unfortunately, each tunnel
is bespoke, its own machine, the way you build it’s different, so you need to address those issues. Unfortunately, it makes
it quite hard to unpack for those who aren’t involved day-to-day in the tunnelling industry. We’re hoping that,
through the consultation of the ATS working group
that we’ve established, we can help drive what is
best practice and share some of this great knowledge which
has been developed in Sydney. Over the last 30 years,
we’ve had a real uptick in the construction of
tunnels in the Sydney Basin. Some of the challenges that came out of that initial meeting. Training and awareness, can’t see silica, it’s not always the easiest
thing to convince people to wear a dust mask for more
extended periods of time. Engagement and collaboration across tunnelling projects
was a key initiative, a lot of the tunnelling professionals work on various jobs throughout
their working life. They collaborate informally. This is often the case, but it was looking to formalise some of that
interaction to spread some of that knowledge more
broadly within the industry. The other one was to strengthen
our standards legally and contractually, that’s
been talked about already. Improving the process
of health surveillance, everyone does it a little bit differently, so I suppose it was around
identifying the segs so we can compare apples with apples across projects and time. And highlighting the
leadership of the importance of health in the tunnelling industry. Some of the solutions
that were also discussed. Leadership from the highest
levels across this project, it was discussed, it was a key
goal for this working group to make sure that it
was project team members who were involved in the discussions, not necessarily corporate types. Sometimes there’s a disconnect, and we wanted to make
sure we got to the people who have the knowledge and the power to change things onsite. Again all key New South Wales
projects were involved. And it was about developing
practical standards through the development of
whether it was the last revision of the Safe Work Australia
guide for tunnelling. The ATS has been pragmatic in highlighting some controls which haven’t been practical or, in fact, impossible to achieve. It’s important to address
and put forward solutions which are practical in nature, as well as developing training
and awareness packages with the guys from
SafeWork NSW and the other key stakeholders,
whether it be Metro or any other major client delivery team. The key areas of focus for
the group, going forward. Standardising practices across
the industry where we can, understanding what is good practice. Raising awareness, it’s pretty simple. But as we have more and more new entrants into the market, putting on orange shirts, they need to know why do
we have to wear dust masks. And identifying key work
tasks through this process. There’s been some activities which you wouldn’t necessarily
assume would be high risk that in fact turned out to be. The routine visits by the safety and health professionals
has recently started, so actually getting
into the nuts and bolts of defining the challenge that we have in the tunnelling industry. One of the key ones, though, as well, was sharing lessons
learned on dust control between projects has been a really strong, really strong area of
focus so far for the group. Without beating around the bush, there’s a couple of multiple
contractors that work in the Sydney Basin and they
operate slightly differently. We’re trying to understand,
what are the best practices that one contractor used to operate? And what are the difference
from another contractor? It’s important to get
that sort of collaboration in an open, professional environment. The key points, it’s about
the effective management of the work health and
safety risks and it relies on a collaborative approach
for the entire sector. Throughout these discussions
there’s been a strong focus on the role that the client plays. It’s important. The schedule challenges which we face on these projects have been
highlighted multiple times, and the impacts that they have in the delivery phase of projects. Engaging with the professional
engineering community is also important, making
sure that those people who are doing design work understand how important it is to design something which doesn’t create excess dust. Minimising cross-sectional
excavation, those sort of things. Also, the industry
groups, such as the ATS, are a great way to actually
bring people together from multiple areas. I’m not sure if this level of
engagement would have happened without an industry group like the ATS. It’s just the collaborative,
pragmatic attitude of tunnellers that we have
in the industry. Thank you.

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