The harmonisation of work health and safety legislation in Australia continues with the commencement of the Work Health and Safety (Mines) Regulations (“the Mines’ Regulations“) in South Australia on 1 January 2014.
The Mines’ Regulations were developed through the Federal Department of Industry’s National Mine Safety Framework. A nationally consistent health and safety regime in the Australian mining industry has now been incorporated into the existing harmonised work health and safety legislation.
The Mines’ Regulations are set out in the new Chapter 10 of the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2012 (“Regulations”) made pursuant to the Work Health and Safety Act 2012 (SA) (“the Act”).
The Mines’ Regulations contain requirements that are very specific to mining activities. They set the minimum standards that must be applied with respect to mine safety and managing risks. The Regulations operate in addition to, and therefore must be read in conjunction with, the overarching obligations contained both in the Act and within the other chapters of the Regulations.
Mine owners and mine operators must familiarise themselves with the new regulations as there are some important differences to the old regime. There are also newly defined terms that must be understood including “mine”, “mine holder”, “mine operator” and “mining operations”. For example, the definition “mining operations” includes activities carried out for the purposes of exploring for minerals by mechanical means that disturb the ground. Therefore, some exploration activities will come within the scope of the Mines’ Regulations.
A significant difference is that the operator of a mine must establish a safety management system for the mine in accordance with the Regulations.
Another key difference, and certainly a requirement that is new in South Australia, is the development of principle mining hazard management plans.
Safety management system
As part of the overarching duty to manage risks to health and safety, the mine operator must establish and implement a safety management system (“SMS”) for the mine.
The SMS is a documented system that will form part of any overall management system in place at a mine. The mine operator must be able to use the SMS to ensure the health and safety of workers (and others) at the mine are not put at risk.
The SMS must be comprehensive with respect to the management of all aspects of risks to health and safety and it must address the risks and complexity of the mine operations. How detailed and comprehensive the SMS is will largely depend on the nature, complexity and location of the mining operations and any risks associated with these factors. The Mines’ Regulations recognise that smaller mines will not require a SMS as detailed as that required for very large and multifaceted mining operations such as Olympic Dam.
The Mines’ Regulations prescribe the content of a SMS and mine operators must be aware of what is required.
Certain key requirements are set out below and we recommend very careful consideration of the Mines’ Regulations for the exact details of the SMS requirements.
The SMS must set out:
- Health and safety policy – the mine operator’s safety policy including the operator’s broad aims in relation to the safe operation of the mine.
- Hazard and risk management process – a description of the systems, procedures, plans and other control measures for managing all risks at the mine in a comprehensive and integrated manner and including hazard identification and risk assessment selection and classification of risk minimisation and control methods monitoring, maintaining, and review of controls and safety systems (note that a SMS must be reviewed and revised as necessary at least once every three years) inspections, audits and testing, and specific principal mining hazard management plans (discussed below)
- Management structure – the organisational structure and contacts of those responsible for managing health and safety. The SMS should include details of roles, responsibilities and arrangements for persons in acting roles in the event of an emergency.
- Consultation arrangements between various persons conducting a business or undertaking at the mine in relation to compliance with the Act.
- Communication arrangements – for involving and informing workers and others about all aspects of the SMS including the safety role for workers identifying and assessing principal mining hazards and the control measures required the emergency plan strategies for managing risks associated with fatigue, alcohol or drugs, and the sharing of information from one shift to another. It is very important to consult with and involve workers in safety processes.
- Arrangements to deal with situations where contractors undertake work at the mine – this includes the control measures that will be used to control risks to health and safety as a result of the contractor’s work and how this can be integrated into the SMS and monitored.
- Maintenance systems – the programs and procedures that are in place for preventative repair and overhaul activities.
- Emergency response plan – this involves consulting with emergency services and local authorities. An emergency response plan is prepared to address (amongst other things): the safety role for workers identifying and assessing principal mining hazards and the control measures required the emergency plan strategies for managing risks associated with fatigue, alcohol or drugs, and the sharing of information from one shift to another.
- An effective emergency response based on the hazards and risks assessed requirements for adequate rescue equipment, crews, first aid, transport evacuation, isolating of process or work areas, and alternate exits, and training and practices to ensure its effectiveness.
- Incident management – procedures for reporting (to the regulator) and investigating as well as tracking any remedial actions to ensure they are implemented.
Principle mining hazard management plans
The mine operator is under a duty within the Act to identify all the principal mining hazards (“PMH”) present at the mine.
A PMH is defined as any activity, process, procedure, plant, structure, substance, situation or other circumstance relating to the carrying out of mining operations that has a reasonable potential to result in multiple deaths in a single incident, or a series of recurring incidents, which relate to mine dangers including: ground or strata failure inundation or inrush of any substance mine shafts and winding operations air quality or dust or other airborne contaminants, and fire or explosion or gas outburst.
For each PMH identified, the mining operator must conduct a detailed risk assessment involving a comprehensive and systematic investigation and analysis of all aspects of the risks to health and safety posed by the PMH.
Once the risk assessment in relation to each PMH has been completed, the mine operator must prepare a written PMH management plan, specifically having regard to the matters set out in Schedule 19 of the WHS Regulations.
Importantly, a PMH management plan must provide for the management of all aspects of risk control with respect to the PMH and be prepared in a manner that makes the management plan easy to understand by anyone that needs to refer to it.
The PMH management plan must also comply with the specific requirements contained in the Mines’ Regulations including an explanation of the nature of the PMH an explanation as to how the PMH may relate to other PMHs at the mine a record of the risk assessment conducted for the PMH, and an outline all control measures to be implemented to manage risks to health and safety associated with the PMH.
The PMH management plan forms part of the SMS as therefore must be documented and reviewed in strict accordance with the Mines’ Regulations.
The Mines’ Regulations commenced operation on 1 January 2014 in South Australia. They have been developed in consultation between the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments and stakeholders and set the minimum standard acceptable to manage risks that are common to mines and mining activity.
Although work health and safety generally has undergone a process of national harmonisation, it is important to remember that work health and safety in the mining industry is regulated by the individual states and territories. It is therefore imperative to know and understand your relevant state or territory-specific legislation.
It is intended that the Mines’ Regulations will be progressively implemented by each jurisdiction. However, the mining States of New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia have separate mining work health and safety regulations containing additional standards.
Safe Work Australia summarises the regulatory frameworks for mining in each jurisdiction as set out below.
Australian Capital Territory, Commonwealth
Mining regulated under general work health and safety legislation without specific mining regulations
Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria
Mining regulated under general work health and safety legislation with some specific mining regulations
New South Wales
General work health and safety regulations apply along with separate mining regulations
Queensland, Western Australia
Mining regulated under stand-alone mining health and safety legislation
In order to fully comprehend and meet your obligations under work health and safety legislation, it is important to have a strong understanding of the Act and the specific requirements as set out in the WHS Regulations.
In South Australia, the key changes involve the SMS and identifying the PMHs unique to each mining activity. Please feel free to contact us for further details on other obligations in the Mines Regulations that mine operators must be aware of.