Living with OHS

IN THE lead-up to the release of Australian Longwall Magazine’s annual consultants’ survey, some consultants took the opportunity to comment on the impact occupational health and safety laws were having on their clients and their business.
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Angie Tomlinson

Consultants were questioned on how the strict New South Wales OHS laws had impacted consultants and their clients.

While some firms did not deal in this area or had not noted any significant changes, other consultants felt that there had been a number of ramifications including an industry more conscious of litigation potential with increased insurance; increased compliance work for consultants; and a requirement for consultants to understand the legislative framework and perform high levels of planning, due diligence and financing.

IMC Mining Solutions noted a number of potential impacts of the laws: “Mining companies may be less likely to investigate innovative options and solutions (especially where unprecedented), instead staying with tried and proven methods.

“There is likely to be increasing consulting work for compliance specialist consultants to review and audit site safety and health management systems,” he said, while on the flipside, short-term secondments or postings to statutory roles may not be favoured unless the consultant has thorough prior working knowledge of the site SHMS.

He also felt that reporting of incident findings to wider industry may be reduced.

Strata Engineering chief executive Tim Watson felt consultants had to conform with the specific requirements of each individual minesite, as mine operators now held responsibility for the consultant’s staff working onsite.

“Specific training and inductions are required for each minesite in addition to the generic industry-wide inductions,” he said.

Palaris Mining managing director John Pala said many consultants had been called on to provide additional resources to help implement the new legislative requirements in a timely manner. As a result, some individual consultants have set themselves up as specialists in this area.

John T Boyd Australia managing director Ian Alexander felt that while consultants had to perform higher levels of planning, due diligence and financing functions, it was the firms that carried out onsite activities, such as contract engineering, that had felt the larger impact of the laws.

For IMC, it was not just NSW where strict OHS laws were having an impact.

“Queensland has followed the NSW lead. There has been a policy shift in Queensland in recent years toward enforcement and to investigating serious accidents and high potential incidents with a view to collecting enough evidence to proceed with a successful prosecution.

“The Compliance Policy details the levels a SSE may be progressed to depending on the incident and evidence. Due to a lack of OHS training and skills bias, one of the reasons that prosecutions have not occurred in the past was due to a lack of or contaminated evidence, which did not allow for successful prosecution.”

IMC said the Queensland Mine Inspectorate was actively looking to change its culture surrounding OHS, sourcing workplace health and safety professionals from outside the mining industry, rather than the traditional areas of ex-mine managers, and electrical and mechanical engineers in charge.

“Also, the inspectorate has several full-time legal advisors who are involved from the initial investigation and interview stage to assist in evidence collection and case building.”

SRK Consulting has witnessed industry players in all states adapting well to the OHS requirements. “This has been achieved, as health and safety are seen as essential parts of mining and not negotiable at any expense.”

It said the increased environmental and social requirements placed on operators and mines, rather than OHS, had had more impact in NSW.

“There has been dampening enthusiasm to develop new mines, which will reduce investment activity and a consequential reduction in project and mining activity, both with negative monetary outcomes for consultants and their clients operating in NSW,” SRK said, noting it did not challenge the requirements but merely observed the impacts.

An article on the full survey results will be published in the June edition of Australian Longwall Magazine.