The tragic fatality at a Canterbury limestone quarry earlier this month has highlighted the risk of non-compliance with health and safety standards for the extractive industry.

Under the Health and Safety in Employment (Mining Operations and Quarrying Operations) Regulations 2013 (Regulations), a quarry owner must appoint a quarry manager, who must hold a Certificate of Competence. This requirement came into force on 1 January 2015. For people who already held a current Certificate of Competence under the previous regulations, there is a transitional period through to 1 January 2016 for those holders to undergo the additional training required for the new certificate.

The certification process is designed to ensure that operators have the appropriate training and knowledge to manage and supervise a quarry operation safely. It includes a number of modules covering how to operate a site, how to use explosives, and how to respond to any incident. It also requires the person to hold a first aid certificate, and to undertake continuing professional development.

Initial reports suggest that the quarry was not being operated in an acceptable way, and that the manager would have been taught to use better methods if he had undergone the training to obtain the Certificate of Competence.

Quarrying operations were exempted from the stricter regime for the monitoring of mines, which was put into place after the Pike River disaster. However, tighter safety guidelines are in the pipeline for the quarry industry.

One significant issue is that there is no centralised register of all quarry operations in New Zealand, so there is no simple way to ensure that all operators have the required certificates. It has been suggested that a local authority be required to notify WorkSafe when they grant a resource consent to a quarry, as a way to ensure that WorkSafe is aware of all operations.

An acknowledgment of the importance of health and safety, and compliance with the legal requirements, may have been enough to prevent this recent incident. Hopefully lessons will have been learnt by others in the extractive industry.

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