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Department of Labour advocates closer regulation of underground coal mining
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Department of Labour advocates closer regulation of underground coal mining

2 April 2012

The Department of Labour is proposing a new regulatory focus for underground coal mining in the wake of the Pike River tragedy.

The Department proposes in its Phase 4 paper to the Pike River Royal Commission of Inquiry that the future regulatory system should be based on the three pillars of support concept.

“This concept of three pillars of support is internationally recognised and involves enhanced employer/operator duties, more support for worker involvement in health and safety, all underpinned by an active and engaged regulator,” says Head of Health and Safety Lesley Haines.

Under the three pillars of support concept, the Department is advocating that employers/operators should be required to produce auditable health and safety management systems and emergency management plans. The paper also advocates the introduction of stricter controls on principal hazards such as methane, strata control, ventilation and inundation. The paper suggests that worker involvement in health and safety needs the support of an Approved Code of Practice which specifies their roles and competencies which will enable them to perform this vital role.

“We suggest the Department, as regulator, should be involved with MED in assessing permit applications under the Crown Minerals Act. It should also assess the proposed principal hazard management plans before mining begins; audit mines’ health and safety management systems on a regular basis; and work closely with the newly proposed ‘site senior executives’ and ‘ventilation officers’ and with worker health and safety representatives,” Ms Haines says.

“The underground coal mining industry has the potential for low probability but high consequence failure and should be prescriptively regulated.

“We have suggested to the Royal Commission that the Health and Safety in Employment Act remains the best vehicle and that the change to prescription should be made to the mining regulations made under the Act.”

The Department’s paper does not support full harmonisation with Australia at this point, although its approach for the future has drawn on the best and most appropriate regulatory and operational practices from Australia.

“We believe it is important to remain closely aligned with Australian regulatory practices and Australian regulations as we go forward,” Ms Haines says.

“The Department’s submission contains significant proposals for the Royal Commission to consider as it begins formulation of its proposals to the Government for future regulation of this industry,” Ms Haines says.

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