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Managing risks and hazards in mining

Mine operators need to make sure that anything that could cause harm or present a risk to the health or safety of people is controlled.

The primary purpose of the work health and safety laws and regulations is to set out the minimum requirements for workplaces to ensure that people are not injured because of the work they do or by the work activities of a business or undertaking.

Managing risks

The Mines Regulations require mine operators to document in the Safety Management System the arrangements for managing risks.

Regulation 617 outlines the steps that need to be taken in managing risks to health and safety. The risk management process is framed around the key principles of:

  • identifying hazards that may present a risk to workers and others
  • assessing the consequences and likelihood of those risks
  • controlling those risks.

These principles are well documented and there is an abundance of information about how a risk management process may be undertaken and applied. The WHS Regulations in relation to the risk management process are supported by a Code of Practice – How to manage health and safety risks. This Code provides practical guidance on how to undertake the principles of hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control as intended by the WHS Regulations.

In managing risks at a mine, mine operators are required to particularly address worker fatigue and the risks associated with the consumption of alcohol and drugs - refer to Regulations 640 and 641.

Principal mining hazards

A major part of the documented Safety Management System for a mine will be the principal mining hazard management plans. While the general risk management process is intended to provide a mechanism for addressing safety issues across the mine, it is widely recognised that there are some hazards on a mine site which can present very significant risks to workers and others. These are collectively referred to as principal mining hazards.

Mine operators must prepare and document a plan which describes how the various risks arising from the hazard will be controlled. Given the higher risk factor associated with these hazards a higher level of planning and control is required. These plans need to be more detailed than other general risk management documentation and must indicate:

  • the nature of the principal mining hazard
  • how it relates to other hazards at the mine
  • the analysis methods used in identifying the principal mining hazard
  • a record of the risk assessment conducted in relation to the principal mining hazard
  • the investigation and analysis methods used in determining the control measures to be implemented
  • a description of all control measures to be implemented to manage risks to health and safety associated with the principal mining hazards
  • a description of the arrangements in place for providing to workers the information, training and instruction required in relation to the principal mining hazard
  • any design principles, engineering standards and technical standards relied on for control measures for the principal mining hazards
  • the reasons for adopting or rejecting the control measures considered.

The WHS Regulations identify a number of known principal mining hazards and these are listed at Regulation 612 as:

  • ground or strata failure
  • inundation or inrush of any substance
  • mine shafts and winding operations
  • roads or other vehicle operating areas
  • air quality or dust or other airborne contaminants
  • fire or explosion
  • gas outbursts
  • spontaneous combustion.

Hazard management plans

If any of these hazards are present at a mine site and have the potential to cause multiple deaths or to cause recurring incidents, a principal mining hazard management plan must be prepared for each hazard.

Schedule 19 of the WHS Regulations lists additional matters that need to be considered in relation to the examples at Regulation 612 and these will also form part of the plan. In preparing a principal mining hazard management plan the mine operator must address these additional matters.

Smaller mining operations will require less detailed plans to ensure that, where they have identified a principal mining hazard, control measures are in place. It is important to remember that the identification of the hazard is just the start of the process. The next steps are assessing the consequences and controlling the risks. The basic concepts of risk management identified in the Code of Practice – How to manage health and safety risks will also e relevant to the management of principal mining hazards.

For micro operations, such as gemstone mining or semi-precious stone mining, where there are limited numbers of workers, it is unlikely that the principal mining hazards envisaged by the WHS Regulations will be present. In these situations the Safety Management System will simply reflect that the matters listed at Regulations 612 do not apply at that particular mining operation.