Queensland looks for new foundation in mining safety framework

The Queensland Government is aiming to improve the effectiveness of its mine safety and health regime.

Releasing the Queensland Mine Safety Framework Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) in September, which outlines options to amend the legislation, Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps said safety is the government’s top priority for the sector.

“Ensuring Queensland mine workers return home safely after each shift is of paramount importance to the Newman Government and to my Department,” Cripps said.

Recognising no system is perfect, Cripps said the proposal will make mine sites even safer.

“It’s time that Queensland’s mining community looked at the legislation we now have, understand where we’ve come from, and determine whether we have the best system to protect Queensland mineworkers,” he said.

The list of changes includes ramping up the number of coal industry safety and health representatives from three to four, clarifying the role of such representatives, and requiring all operations to have a single safety and health management system that covers both company employees and contractors.

The framework also includes changes that would see key safety positions at mine sites to become statutory roles with a Board of Examiners competency certificate required.

Cripps said increasing the number of health and safety representatives will “clarify the important role that union safety and health representatives play in the mining industry”.

Improving stone dusting and water barrier requirements for underground coal operations to further minimise the risk of fire or explosion has been also included in the list of changes.

The Queensland framework is suggesting standardising the management of fatigue, drugs, alcohol and fitness for work across both the quarry and coal sector.

Ten people have died on Queensland coal mines over the last 10 years, and 20 have been killed in metal mining operations.

The higher representation of contractors being fatally injured or involved in accidents on mine sites is said to be a driving factor behind many of the safety changes.

Cripps said he was pleased the proposals addressing the safety of increasing numbers of contract workers in Queensland mines.

“Recent data suggests contractors are more likely to be injured on our mine sites, sometimes fatally, which is why these proposals will clarify that everyone, contractor or mine employee, is required to operate under a single safety and health management system on site,” he said.

The Regulatory Impact Statement was developed following consideration of 28 submissions received in response to a 2012 consultation paper circulated to the mining industry about the review of Queensland’s mine safety and health laws.

Miners will have the opportunity to have their say about the proposed reforms with a number of forums being run across the state.

Mount Isa mine managers met with Queensland Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health Stewart Bell and the former chief inspector of coal mines Gavin Taylor last month to discuss the proposed legislation changes.

Cripps said the State Government is working cooperatively with the unions and resource companies to improve mine site safety.

But the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) says it has serious concerns about the changes.

CFMEU spokesperson Stephen Smyth said the proposed changes could see safety standards slide, the ABC reports.

He said the union is concerned about a proposal which could stop health and safety representatives being able to issue directives about unsafe operations.

Under the new rules, representatives can only close a dangerous operation if they were present on that particular site. They will have to notify management.

"We have world's best practice," Smyth said.

"The LNP Government keep telling us that as well and we know that for a fact, so why change something that isn't broke?

"This is the issue we have with submissions put forward so far for the changes.

"If you look at the objectives and the scope of what this is about, some of those proposals just don't fit into the scope of the objectives."

Cripps said the review will stop the "irresponsible use of power" by unions, adding the power which allows union representatives to issue directions around unsafe operations has been abused.

"What we have seen under existing legislation is that union officials in Brisbane can make a phone call and shut down a mine without even setting foot on the work site," he said.

"I challenge the CFMEU to be honest about those instances where union-appointed safety officials have inappropriately stopped production."

Smyth said while the union supports the review, it doesn’t think it is sincere.

Cripps said the review is about making sure the legislation protects all mining workers.

"We're absolutely determined to ensure that Queensland's mine safety and health laws are about that – the safety and health of workers – and that they're not used as weapons in industrial relations disputes, or flouted by operators who don't take them seriously enough," he said.

Cripps stated changes made will only improve mine site safety and accountability.

"There'll be no change for change's sake," he said.

"We'll be making informed decisions about what we do with our mine safety legislation.

"If harmonisation with other jurisdictions is in Queensland's best interest, then we'll pursue those changes.

"But if not, we'll be maintaining Queensland's standards, which are internationally recognised as being as one of the best in the world."

The CFMEU said the government was under pressure from the QRC to remove powers held by mine check inspectors and place it in the hands of mine management.

The Queensland Resources Council backs the modifications but said it would assess its stance before submissions are made.

Chief executive Michael Roche said mining safety laws were passed ten years ago and it was time to update it.

Proposed reforms to Queensland’s mine safety regime are now open for public discussion.

Stakeholders have until November 11 to lodge submissions.

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