The legacy of the Pike River coal mine tragedy will be a much more comprehensive health and safety regime across the mining industry generally – not just underground coal mines, although these were the focus of the Royal Commission's recommendations.

Safe mines: safe workers invites comment on a range of proposals to promote a stronger safety culture in mining operations where there is the potential for multiple fatalities.

Submissions close on 1 July 2013.

Scope of new regime

The Government is proposing a new set of regulations for the mining industry, which will:

  • set processes and controls for managing "principal hazards" – a term imported from Australia to cover risks which could create multiple deaths in a single incident or through a series of recurring incidents
  • overhaul the training and required qualifications for mine workers and managers
  • enhance worker participation in health and safety outcomes, and
  • establish emergency management procedures and stronger minimum standards for emergency preparedness.

The regulations will cover coal and metal mining, both opencast and underground, and larger scale or more risky tunnels and quarries. Less hazardous activities will continue to be managed under the Health and Safety in Employment Act (HSEA).

The new framework is to come into effect in December this year but existing miners will have a 12 month transitional period to come into compliance. This may be extended for up to 36 months subject to the consent of the Chief Inspector of Mines.

The Mines Rescue Trust Levy, which is production-driven and has not been reviewed since 1992, will be raised and recalibrated to put more emphasis on risk. The new levies will apply from 1 April 2014.

New requirements

Mining operators, in addition to their HSEA obligations, will need to:

  • develop formal "principal hazard management plans" to cover every principal hazard at a mine and "principal control plans" for processes such as ventilation, electrical and mechanical engineering and emergency response. These plans must be:
    • developed with worker involvement
    • independently audited at least every three years, and
    • available for review by the new health and safety regulator
  • appoint an appropriately trained site senior executive to ensure that the mine is health and safety compliant and establish new technical specialist roles to ensure that mine operators have the expertise to manage site hazards (these may include a ventilation officer, electrical engineering manager, supervisor, and mechanical engineering manager)
  • submit documented health and safety processes to the new workplace health and safety agency announced by the Government last month to be in place before the end of this year.

Enhanced training

The mining sector's qualifications and training regime will be improved, including competency requirements for all safety critical roles, and brought in closer alignment with Australia. Minimum training for mine workers will be required and an independent New Zealand Mining Board of Examiners will be established to set the standards, examine applicants and award certificates of competency.

Worker participation

Currently worker participation programmes are mandatory only in organisations employing at least 30 people. It is proposed that they be required in all "principal hazard" sites and that they cover contractors as well as employees.

Other proposed requirements are that:

  • the results of workplace health and safety monitoring be given to all workers, not just made available on request, and
  • worker health and safety representatives be given new powers, including an ability to inspect a mining operation and to order a stop to operations where there is an immediate danger to workers.

Emergency management

The regulations will establish emergency management procedures and set out stronger minimum standards for emergency preparedness.

All mines must have an emergency management plan, developed with the workers and the Mines Rescue Service (or other relevant emergency service), which will set out the processes for self rescue and rescue by emergency services. The plan will be audited and tested regularly in emergency exercises. More extensive emergency equipment and facilities for self rescue will be required, depending on the type of mine.

Chapman Tripp comment

Given the factors which led to the Pike River disaster and the nature of the Royal Commission's findings and recommendations, a strong regulatory response was inevitable.

These proposals draw on the advice of the Expert Reference Group, made up of independent mining and health and safety experts from New Zealand and Australia, and will bring New Zealand into line with international best practice.

There is a handy submission form attached to the discussion document. We will be happy to assist you to prepare a submission.

The information in this article is for informative purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Please contact Chapman Tripp for advice tailored to your situation.