Continuing the national approach to work health and safety

Back in 2002 the Conference of the Chief Inspector of Mines (CCIM), representing all the states and territories, developed the National Mine Safety Framework (NMSF) to provide a nationwide approach to managing work health and safety (WHS) in the mining and quarrying industries.

The Ministerial Council on Mineral and Petroleum Resources appointed a tripartite NMSF steering group in 2005 to further develop and implement the framework. The steering group, which comprised representatives of the federal, state and Northern Territory governments and relevant industry associations and trade unions, was formally concluded in April 2013, with final implementation of the NMSF work to be progressed by the state and Northern Territory governments. I was pleased to be part of the CCIM and NMSF steering committee and to contribute to the development and implementation plan of the NMSF. The underlying principles outlined at the time are still relevant today:

  • The primary responsibility for WHS rests with industry parties.
  • Industry must ensure sound workplace structures that empower employers and employees at all levels to identify WHS issues and options for dealing with them.
  • Governments set WHS standards and require performance of these standards.
  • Governments complement and support industry initiatives to ensure best practice WHS.

The NMSF is made up of seven strategies, focused on key areas in which consistency across jurisdictions would be most beneficial to deliver better safety outcomes:

  1. Nationally consistent legislation.
  2. Competency support.
  3. Compliance support.
  4. A nationally co-ordinated protocol on enforcement.
  5. Consistent and reliable data collection and analysis.
  6. Effective consultation mechanisms.
  7. A collaborative approach to research.

The most difficult strategy to finalise and implement was the development of nationally consistent mine safety legislation. Drafting instructions and example clauses were developed for each jurisdiction to use to amend existing mine safety legislation or regulations to deliver a nationally consistent approach.

South Australia and the Northern Territory have updated their regulations to be consistent with the draft model WHS regulations and a series of codes of practices.

To manage WHS effectively, the draft model WHS regulations require all operations, regardless of size, to establish a safety management system that is documented, easily understood and accessible to all workers, and that forms part of an overall management system at the mine or quarry.

The other important concept outlined in the draft model WHS regulations relates to principal hazards, which can result in multiple fatalities and injuries if not adequately controlled.

Given the higher risk factor associated with these hazards, a higher level of planning, risk assessment and control is required. A principal mining hazard management plan must be prepared for each hazard.

The goal of the competency support strategy is to promote continuous skills development and competency nationwide, in support of the progressive move to industry-based assessment of competency.

The Institute of Quarrying Australia, with its current educational initiatives, is well placed to work with industry and governments to implement this strategy.

The CCIM through the NMSF has provided strategies to achieve best practice WHS in our industry. Governments and industry need to work together to ensure the delivery of best practice in WHS. While we can be extremely proud of the progress we have made in the mining and quarrying industries in almost 15 years, our work remains unfinished.

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