On 20 March 2018, Mines and Energy Minister Dr Anthony Lynham introduced the Mines Legislation (Resources Safety) Amendment Bill to Queensland Parliament, aiming to remedy perceived weaknesses in current mining safety and health laws, and better protect workers. In particular, the amendments to the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act (Qld) and the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act (Qld) should strengthen enforcement and compliance powers, provide greater transparency and accountability, and improve safety and health management systems. The Bill's tabling comes after it was originally presented to the House of Representatives in September last year, before the election.
Enforcement and compliance powers
If the Bill is passed, the enforcement options for serious breaches of the legislation will be significantly expanded. The chief executive will have the power to fine mine operators or contractor corporations through civil penalties of up to 1,000 penalty units ($126,000) and to suspend or cancel an individual's certificate of competency or senior executive notice, reducing their responsibilities for the safety and health of mine workers. The Bill also significantly increases maximum penalties for breaches of the legislation to achieve greater consistency with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). The maximum fine for safety contraventions causing multiple deaths will increase from 2,000 penalty units ($252,300) to 30,000 units ($3,784,500) for corporations. Company officers may be liable for penalties of up to 6,000 units ($756,900). For the lowest level offences, company officers face penalties up to 1,000 penalty units (126,150) or six months' jail. The Bill also clarifies the entry powers of inspectors to workplaces linked to mines, to provide certainty regarding powers to enter and conduct inspections, investigations and audit compliance.
Transparency and accountability
A number of initiatives of the Bill operate to provide greater transparency and accountability. For example, if the Bill is passed:
- officers will be required to exercise an appropriate level of due diligence, commensurate with their position
- responsibility for notification of reportable diseases will extend to a broader range of individuals, such as medical practitioners
- manufacturers and suppliers to mine sites need to notify the chief inspector of any hazardous or defective equipment or substances provided to sites, and
- the board of examiners will keep a public register of certificates of competency holders to release safety information in a timely manner following an incident.
Safety and health management systems
The Bill also focuses on improving safety and health management systems to ensure an acceptable level of risk. For example, contractors and service providers will be required to provide a copy of their safety and health management plan to the site senior executive for consideration and integration onto the mine's single safety and health management system. Further, operators of small opal and gem mines will need to have a safety health and management plan. Finally, monitoring current and former mining workers will be acknowledged as a way to broaden the protection of safety and health offered by the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act (Qld) and the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act (Qld).
What are the next steps?
The tabling of this Bill is no surprise, given the Government's continued focus on the work health and safety legislative framework. While the Bill does not include the introduction of industrial manslaughter, discussions about its expansion into the sector have begun with industry and unions. However, any changes to introduce industrial manslaughter would be the subject of a future bill.
Both mine operators and site senior executives need to urgently review their current systems to ensure they will be compliant if the Bill becomes law. In the meantime, we will keep you updated on the progress of this Bill, including any significant changes that you need to be aware of.
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