Improving Safety in Line with the New WHS (Mines) Act

Mining operations in New South Wales need to prepare for the upcoming changes to Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation.

Coming into effect on February 1 this year, the WHS (Mines) Act 2013, together with the WHS (Mines) Regulation 2014, will replace existing legislation regarding safety in the mining industry.

The new laws have been established following extensive investigations and reports into the state of mining safety in New South Wales. According to the latest figures from Safe Work Australia, five miners were killed at work in NSW in just eight months in 2014.

Overall, a total 185 Australians died on the job in 2014. Of those, the transport, postal and warehousing industry reported the highest number of fatalities, followed by the agriculture, forestry and fishing industry.

Mining and resources came in fourth with 15 workplace fatalities, behind the construction industry. For miners, the worst affected sites were found in New South Wales and Western Australia.

In response to the growing number of fatalities, NSW Resources and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts told The Australian he had asked the chairman of the Mine Safety Advisory Council to apply “a deeper, holistic examination of current circumstances.

The new WHS legislation

The purpose of the new mining laws is to improve the consistency of WHS requirements for mining companies and implement reforms developed as part of a harmonisation process.

The new regulations now include rules that apply to the:

  • Responsibility and functions of mine operators
  • WHS representation for workers
  • Risk management and controls
  • Monitoring worker and community health
  • Creating mine survey plans and records
  • Notifying and reporting incidents
  • Liability and statutory functions
  • Licensing

Most mines, exploration activities and processing facilities in NSW will be impacted by this change, as mining operations have been extended to include the extraction of and exploration for minerals. The laws also cover activities performed in connection with these areas.

Exploration will be treated as a mining operation and employers in this role will be required to oversee the implementation of a safety management system.

Many of the new provisions apply to all mining operations, though specific risk controls have also been outlined for underground mines and all types of coal mines.

Any mining operation in NSW will need to carefully read the new laws in order to properly understand their obligations and implement any necessary changes prior to the launch of the regulations.

If your company starts now, transitional provisions will allow you some time to adjust to changes before fines and penalties are applied. Failing to comply with WHS legislation can have serious consequences for employers. It is important to take all reasonable precautions to avoid injuries, accidents and fatalities.

Meeting your obligations as an employer

A business owner, employer or manager holds a duty of care to the safety and wellbeing of their workers. This includes contracted and temporary staff, and is not limited to the basic WHS standards.

One crucial factor in maintaining workplace safety is using the right mining equipment. This industry often requires the handling of dangerous materials, for instance, so risks in this area need to be addressed. This includes installing compliant dangerous goods storage equipment, such as flammable storage cabinets and gas cylinder storage cages.

In the past, NSW miners have enjoyed a world-class WHS record. With injuries and fatalities on the rise, it’s clear there is still room for improvement. It is therefore important that employers are focused on safety, rather than profits.

With the right mining equipment, you can potentially improve not only efficiency but also safety. Investing in the correct tools is just one step towards achieving a zero-fatality workplace.

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