The challenges of managing a site under current legislation

For the past 10 years, as an employer, father and friend of people in our industry, I have never accepted the fact the safety performance of our industry is deteriorating while we continue to work under the same management regime and regulatory strategies.

In opening this discussion, we need to agree upon what is seen as “reasonable” and “practicable” with respect to the duties, responsibilities and obligations pertaining to a quarry management system.

In other words, what is practicable and what is actually achievable, while ensuring no person is exposed to unreasonable risk and that the site is compliant with its regulatory obligations on a daily basis?

My belief is that to be safe and efficient, a quarry manager’s time must be spent directing and overseeing the completion of tasks, while complying with company standards, ensuring they are undertaken with minimal risk and that they are evidenced with a document trail.

The former Victorian Extractive Industry Act 1966 directed the process of the quarry manager’s certification, which culminated with a presentation to a board consisting of respected industry leaders and regulators. This process was a means of assessing potential managers’ abilities, competencies, experience and qualifications. Although this system ceased in December 2005, it was respected and regarded as best practice by the extractive industries throughout Australia.

In 2008 the administration of the Victorian Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 2004 and the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 was moved from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries to WorkSafe Victoria.

Since then, the requirements of a quarry manager under the earth resources legislation (currently the Mineral Resources [Sustainable Development] Act 1990, or MRSDA) have been significantly watered down.

The MRSDA still requires managers to be appointed (not necessarily in writing) and does not require them to be competent.

The Victorian OHS Act 2004 states employers must provide employees with the necessary training and supervision to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risk (section 21.2.e). This implies that quarry managers must be competent, but it does not “state” this. Consequently, we are left with an unclear understanding of the lawful roles or responsibilities of a quarry manager.

Duty of care

At Conundrum Holdings we have a business structure whereby the quarry manager leads a management team to assist us in meeting our “duty of care” responsibilities under the OHS Act 2004.

Within the management team are people with specific skills relating to site activities for assisting the quarry manager’s daily duties. Management and workers within sites must be provided with the appropriate training, company support and remuneration commensurate to the obligations expected of them by their employer, the community and the regulator in this day and age.

As a director, I believe the establishment and maintenance of an effective management system and the continuous engagement of workers are integral parts of a company’s responsibility, and are at the core of providing a safe quarry site.

If a company lacks an appropriate management system, it cannot proactively prevent incidents or non-compliances. There also needs to be a balance between measuring compliance and performance, and supporting preventative action.

Each site must be fully aware of the number of hours required to undertake, review and report (ie effectively manage) each of the site’s activities, thus maintaining high levels of housekeeping and workforce engagement. This will ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the company’s risks are identified and regulatory obligations are being met. What follows is a list of these site activities, but it is not exhaustive:

Overarching management duties.

  • Communicating with employees and contractors on-site throughout the day.

  • Filling in daily reporting requirements.

  • Developing risk management plans.

  • Creating/maintaining audit systems.

  • Creating/maintaining employee job folios.

  • Attending meetings including internal, external, training related and other.

  • Meeting and consulting with regulators.

Liaising with the community.

  • Proximity of local community and its future encroachment needs as land in-fills are required.

  • The overarching management plans underpinning the work plan required to meet community expectations (eg traffic, blasting, environmental and rehabilitation, dust, noise management plans, etc).

  • The number of contacts made by the community and the regulator.

  • Proximity to sensitive receptors.

Managing the workforce.

  • The culture, age, experience and well-being of the workforce.

  • The expectation of the workforce in regards to work/family balance in an age where both parents generally work and children are in childcare.

  • Availability and competence/ qualification of specialist contractors used on the site.

  • The ongoing observation of contractors’ work practices.

  • The technical capability and stability of the management team and workforce.

  • Off-site support of managers by the owner, where applicable.

Managing the resource.

  • The depth of overburden being excavated and transferred to stockpile.

  • Ongoing maintenance of previously rehabilitated areas.

  • The size and location (distance from service providers) of the operation.

  • The geology of the site.

  • Resource workability, eg abrasiveness, hardness, variable quality, dip, strike and depth.

  • Water management.

Managing processing plant.

  • Consistency of the resource and the ease of maintaining production gradings.

  • Tonnes per hour, eg re-screening, blending, double-handling of processed materials.

  • The range of products processed and number of customers being supported.

  • Correct selection of capital plant and equipment used for winning, hauling, processing and dispatching product.

  • The age of the processing plant and mobile equipment being used.

  • Plant upgrade/decommissioning activity.

Managing a transport fleet.

  • Size and age of the fleet.

  • The number of truck movements entering and leaving the site on a peak day.

  • Tyranny of distance from civilisation and market.

  • Compliance with mass management obligations for all heavy vehicles leaving the site.

  • Compliance with fatigue and driver diary obligations.

If a quarry site has a management system in place commensurate with the site’s activities, and it is supported by its owners, we will reduce the risk of serious incidents on-site.

This is opposed to the existing regulatory position that improvement can only be achieved by continued expansion and revision of the regulations.

One current example of this is the proposed siloing of all management systems pertaining to Victorian Work Authority applications or variations into a government web-based platform known as the Resource Rights Allocation Management system.

The regulatory obligations upon our businesses, site management and workers are expanding exponentially and there is no sign they will plateau.

The existing document-based “cover all” regulatory approach promoted by our regulators and supported by many owners/ employers is weighted towards the provision of evidence for future reference.

Does this approach allow a quarry manager to get out and engage with workers, assess the risks involved and control those risks? Does this approach confine a quarry manager to their office, ensuring documents and records are current and valid, even when they know more time has been spent on recording the activity than planning the activity?

Regulatory changes being brought forward need to be evidenced via detailed cost analysis/modelling, and transparently tested prior to their introduction. Furthermore, once implemented, review of their practical use and effectiveness and actual cost impact against the original proposal must take place. If a regulatory change is found to be ineffective, it would be necessary to remove or rewrite it.

In conclusion, I would like to stress that we all aspire to the same outcome: an efficient, economical and safe workplace that continually improves. None of us are perfect, we all make unintentional mistakes – the human factor. The culture of blame and cover clearly needs to change.

The author acknowledges and thanks colleagues that assisted in reviewing this article.

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