Duty of care – not just for employers and employees

WE are all (or should be) reasonably familiar with the duty of care cast on employers and employees by provisions under the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994

WE are all (or should be) reasonably familiar with the duty of care cast on employers and employees by provisions under the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 and regulations (and the equivalent provisions for general industry under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984). But there is another class of persons covered by the Act that has its own statutory duties — manufacturers, importers and suppliers of plant (and substances). These duties are specified in section 14 of the Act and further explained in Part 6 of the regulations.

Among the major duties regarding plant is to ensure — so far as is practicable — that the design and construction of the plant is such that people who properly install, maintain or use the plant are not, in doing so, exposed to hazards, and to ensure that adequate information about:

• any dangers associated with the plant; and

• the conditions necessary to ensure that persons properly using the plant are not, in doing so, exposed to hazards is provided when the plant is supplied and whenever requested.

Further duties are cast by the Part 6 regulations (rr. 6.2 to 6.24) on employers, designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers (including hirers) of plant for use on mines. Hazards associated with the plant must be identified and the risks arising must be assessed and consideration must be given to reducing them.

Among the specific information that must be provided by designers or manufacturers (on behalf of the designer) are:

• the purpose for which the plant is designed; and

• the systems of work necessary for the safe use of the plant.

Manufacturers are also required to reduce risk by a number of particular means or by arranging with the designer to alter the design.

It may be that these duties in relation to plant are not well understood by those on whom those duties fall. Certainly, it sometimes seems to the inspectorate that this may be the case. Two examples will suffice to indicate the reasons for this belief.

The first is the continuing and significant incidence of injury arising from getting on and off mobile equipment. Strains, sprains and fractures from this source continue to be major factors in mining injuries and their causation, along with vehicle jolting and jarring incidents. Surely, it is not beyond the capability of the industry and its manufacturers and suppliers to make some real strides in mobile plant and equipment design, and eliminate or reduce the effects of this problem.

The second is the fact that we continue to see injuries, including fatalities, from rockfalls involving people working on the ground near development drill jumbos underground. The development jumbo is basically designed for the drilling of horizontal or near-horizontal blast holes in a development face and not specifically for the installation of ground support, although this kind of machine is commonly used for that purpose.

Jumbo operators have long been afforded the protection of overhead canopies, covering the operator’s position as a purpose-designed means of mitigating the possibility of rockfall injury — a well-established risk factor near development faces. The same protection is not provided for those working on the ground near the machine — particularly in the hazardous work of installing ground support with the machine, often in a recently blasted and unstable area that has previously been unsupported.

The use of a drill jumbo for the installation of mesh held by friction rock anchors is a commonplace activity in underground mining. Commonly, the operator is assisted by a person on the ground who fits the mesh sheets onto the boom or bolts in the drill-feed and guides the operator to install them by driving them into a pre-drilled hole using the drifter fitted with a ‘dolly’.

Presumably, the designers and suppliers of the jumbos would be aware that such use is made of the machines. It would be interesting to see how many of them actually provide information in their manuals on the safe use of the units for such purposes — or indicate that the machine cannot be used for such work without the possibility of the person on the ground being exposed to an unacceptable rockfall risk.

The same risk is not present in the use of a purpose-designed bolting jumbo, as the whole operation of drilling and installing a variety of bolt types can be carried out by a single operator from the protected operator’s console. Again, it is surely not beyond the industry, designers and manufacturers to come up with a solution that complies with the law of the State.

What is the NMSF

From 1 June 2007, you will be able to read more about the National Mine Safety Framework and consultation that is happening this year regarding:

• broad principles for national legislative consistency;

• a protocol to ensure effective consultation between stakeholders at the workplace; and

• a national data set to ensure consistency in safety and health data collection and analysis.

Visit www.industry.gov.au/minesafety

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