With a total of 13 mine fatalities in WA in 1997, nine of which were in underground mining, Alex Atkins knew she was entering dangerous territory in her chosen career.
It was the same year that Ms Atkins started out in underground mining, armed with two engineering degrees and qualified as a geotechnical engineer, mining engineer and mining geologist.
The principal of Alex Atkins and Associates – guest speaker at the St Barbara’s Day Luncheon in Perth last Friday, organised by the WA Mining Club – says it was a formative experience for her being in the “line of fire in such a deadly period”.
“The number of fatalities in the decade I started were more than double the industry’s today and that was with a smaller workforce,” she said.
According to statistics from the WA Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety, there was a total of 69 fatalities in the State’s mining industry between 1990-2000, while 30 deaths in the same sector were recorded in 2010-2020.
“The reason for this improvement is the move to bulk, mechanised mining and away from selective handheld mining,” Ms Atkins said.
“Over the next decade we will move towards fully autonomous mining with no man entry and hopefully no more deaths.”
Ms Atkins has also called for the improved retention and development of women in mining leadership roles, especially those who specialise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
The St Barbara’s Day Luncheon is traditionally held on the first Friday of December and celebrates the Feast of St Barbara – the patron saint of miners.
Ms Atkins is a non-executive director at both the ASX-listed Perenti Global (based in Perth) and the International Women in Mining (based in London), as well as a former director of The Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (AusIMM).