12 Sep 2013

Queensland Mine Safety Framework released for comment - time to have your say

The long-awaited Queensland Mine Safety Framework Regulatory Impact Statement has finally been released for consultation. It outlines the Queensland Government's proposed options to improve mining safety and health and develop greater regulatory consistency with the other States and Territories.

Two options for mine safety in Queensland

While four options were considered only the following two options have been put out for comment:

  • retention of Queensland's two mining safety and health Acts (covering coal and metalliferous mining and quarrying), plus amendments based on provisions from the National Harmonised Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Model Act) and additional provisions (both those considered core and non-core) from the National Mine Safety Framework that improve safety and consistency; OR
  • the development of mine safety legislation based primarily on the Model Act, plus amendments based on provisions from the Model Act and additional provisions (both those considered core and non-core) from the National Mine Safety Framework that improve safety and consistency.

The options have been developed in response to the National Mine Safety Framework which was to harmonise New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia mining safety laws, and is the culmination of a review that began before the harmonised legislation came into operation.

The National Mining Safety Framework recommendations included provisions considered to be core which were to be harmonised across the three states, and non-core, which may change based on jurisdiction. The proposal will only pick up those of the recommendations that the Government consider that improve safety and consistency.

The release of the regulatory impact statement comes at a time when Western Australia has announced that it may overhaul its entire safety legislation rather than adopt the harmonised model. We are yet to get further confirmation as to whether NSW and Western Australia will follow Queensland's lead in this regard.

What's proposed to reform Queensland mine safety – and what isn't

According to the Queensland Minister for Natural Resources and Mines, Andrew Cripps, some of the specific proposed reforms (irrespective of which option is adopted) include:

  • an increase in the number of coal industry safety and health representatives from three to four;
  • clarification of the role of industry safety and health representatives;
  • all mines required to have a single safety and health management system that covers both company employees and contractors;
  • key safety positions at mine sites to become statutory roles with a Board of Examiners competency certificate required;
  • improved stone dusting and water barrier requirements for underground coal operations to further minimise the risk of fire or explosion; and
  • standardising the management for fatigue, drugs, alcohol and fitness for work across both the quarry and coal sectors.

The proposal does not appear to address some of the long-standing concerns of industry, including:

  • the power and responsibility of the industry safety and health representatives and the site safety and health representatives;
  • the complexity and difficulties associated with the coal board medical process;
  • the difficulty of implementing standard operating procedures (SOPs) where the agreement of the cross-section of the workforce is required; and
  • what happens when agreement to SOPs cannot be reached (with some sites taking years to implement important SOPs as a result of a disputed process).

Next steps in the consultation process

As we are still in the consultation phase, the proposed amendments and reforms are for discussion purposes only and will not have any immediate commercial impact. If they are adopted, however, they are likely to have significant impacts on mine operations and management of risk. Now is the time to address some of the ongoing concerns with the current legislation.

Stakeholders have 60 days to lodge submissions about the issues outlined in the Queensland Mine Safety Framework Regulatory Impact Statement – so all comments are due by 5pm Monday, 11 November, 2013.

During that 60 day period the Department of Natural Resources and Mines will be hosting forums across Queensland.

If you would like further information on the process, ramifications of the possible reforms or assistance in preparing submissions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.