- Being prepared for a visit can make the mine inspection go smoothly and ensure that you are discharging your legal obligations.
With the announcement that the Queensland mines inspector will be conducting a number of unannounced site visits over the year, mines in Queensland need to be prepared for unexpected visitors. Not only will compliance with safety obligations save lives and reduce workplace injuries, it will also reduce the potential for penalties or fines for breach of legal obligations when the mines inspector calls.
A visit from the mines inspector can be prepared for in advance - even when the visit is unannounced. There are a range of actions that can be taken in anticipation of an inspection and during the site visit in order to facilitate a visit from the mines inspectorate and for the miner to ensure that it discharges its legal obligations.
While this article discusses the position in relation to the powers of the mines inspector and actions that could be taken at Queensland mine sites, several of the actions described in this article may be applicable to other states.
Obviously, the best course of action is to ensure that the mine site is safe and that all applicable legal and safety standards are achieved or exceeded.
Preparation for a mines inspection can be undertaken similar to the preparation that would be undertaken for an emergency response plan. While the scale and seriousness of a visit from a mines inspector are not the same as other potential emergencies, there are similarities from which preparation can be derived: namely, emergencies and unannounced visits are both events beyond the control of the miner that requires immediate action to be taken. In preparing and implementing a plan for the mines inspector's visit, key people will need to receive training on the plan and some rehearsals should be held.
A further preliminary action that should be undertaken is in relation to documentary records. The miner should identify all documents held on site that are subject to legal professional privilege. Privileged documents do not need to be provided to mines inspectors. Being able to quickly identify which documents are privileged can assist the miner to quickly respond to requests for document production and the miner can confidently decline any request to see such documents.
Mines inspectors, like all visitors, will need to receive a site induction (including any usual drug and alcohol testing) before entering the mine site.
No special treatment or favours should be given to the mines inspector or their team. They should be treated as any other visitor to the site.
Mines inspectors and their teams will also need a base of operations while on the site and should be given a dedicated room for their use. Consistent with the miner's rights in relation to privileged documents, it is advisable for all confidential or privileged information to be removed from the room prior to the installation of the mines inspector.
Mines inspectors will also need access to people to achieve the purposes of their visit. Appropriate mine staff should be assigned to the mines inspector for the duration of the visit, eg. people of sufficient seniority who understand the powers of the mines inspector and the rights of the miner. The role of these persons is to facilitate the inspection. Some of the roles that these people may need to undertake are to locate and produce documents or to escort the inspection team around the site as required.
A critical step, once the mines inspector is installed at the site, is for the site manager to sit down with the mines inspector to find out the purpose of the visit and to then try to facilitate that purpose. This information will need to be relayed to appropriate people within (and potentially external to the company), for example, the managing director, any safety managers and to internal or external lawyers.
The miner will need to work with the mines inspector to assist the mines inspector to carry out their duties and functions.
But in facilitating the visit, the miner needs to be aware of the limits on the powers of the inspector. A miner isn't obliged to do anything beyond the scope of the mine inspector's authority and is entitled to decline requests if they would exceed the powers of the inspector.
Powers of mines inspector
A mines inspector has a broad range of powers - but they are not without limit. Some of the key powers of mines inspectors are:
- A mines inspector may search any part of the mine
- A mines inspector may inspect, film or photograph anything at the mine
- A mines inspector may copy documents at the mine
- A mines inspector may require a person to answer questions.
One key limitation on the power of a mines inspector is that a mines inspector cannot unnecessarily impede production at the mine.
The extent of this limitation is yet to be tested in a court, so it is not clear how far this extends. It is worth noting that in most (if not all) circumstances safety is likely to usually prevail over production so it would only be in unusual circumstances that this limitation would apply.
While the miner is entitled to question the extent of the mines inspectors powers, the miner should be careful of the way in which it raises any challenges. The key reason for this is that a person who prevents a mines inspector from exercising their lawful powers may face penalties under the applicable legislation.
Safety is a critical issue for all miners and there is no doubt that all miners need to discharge their legal and safety obligations. One aspect of managing safety is the powers of mines inspectors to enter mine sites and carry out unannounced visits and audits. While miners can't prevent these visits from occurring, they can be prepared for these visits and be ready to respond in such a way that facilitates the visit and brings it to a speedy and successful conclusion. Taking some of the actions above may assist the miner to facilitate a visit from the mines inspector and may assist your company to comply with its legal and safety obligations.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.