Quarry operators may be in for an unwelcome surprise when the Government introduces tougher health and safety regulations for the mining industry later this year.

While the Pike Royal Commission focused on only underground coal mining, the new (more onerous) regime will extend into not only all mining - underground and opencast, coal and metalliferous and any tunnels under construction - but also into some quarries.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has recently released its proposals for changing the regulatory regime for mining, which will implement the recommendations made by the Pike River Royal Commission of Inquiry.

The proposals are out for public submission until 1 July and are to be introduced by December this year. Existing operations are given a transitional period of 12 months to comply or operators can seek a longer exemption (up to 36 months) from the Chief Inspector of Mines.

The changes will result in amendments to the Health & Safety in Employment Act, new mining regulations and codes of practice and will set stronger minimum standards in key areas. In summary, the changes are:

  • Broadening the Royal Commission's recommendations concerning underground coal mines, to cover all types of mining as well as tunnels and some quarries.
  • A new regulatory approach for mining, requiring processes for hazard management in mining operations.
  • Strengthened training and competency requirements for safety critical roles in the mining industry.
  • Increased worker participation in health and safety in mining operations.
  • Improvements in emergency preparedness by mining operations and in the provision of mines rescue services and emergency management of incidents.

The first of these changes will be of particular concern for quarry operators, as MBIE is proposing that certain "in scope" quarries will need to comply with the new regime.

An "in scope" quarry is any operation that meets two or more of the following criteria, or that the regulator wants to be brought within the new regime:

  • A quarry where four or more mine workers ordinarily work at any one time ("mine worker" covers any person, whether employee or subcontractor) who is involved in mining related activities but not in ancillary activities such as administration).
  • Quarry faces of more than 3.5 metres (from the lowest to highest point).
  • Ground conditions where risk of failure or subsidence is likely to endanger places where people may be present or ground movement is likely to harm or kill anyone.
  • " Commercial operations producing more than 100,000 tonnes a year.

Quarries that are not "in scope" will continue to be governed by the general health and safety regime, like all other places of work.

In its recent consultation meeting in Christchurch, MBIE stressed its desire for industry submissions on all areas of the regime, but particularly on this issue of scope. It specifically asked that submitters provide views on where the line should be for "in scope" quarries that will be within the new regime and, if possible, objective criteria to define that line.

MBIE has attempted to formulate objective and clear rules to determine which quarries fall within the new regime - hence the above checklist. It originally estimated that approximately 20 quarries would be covered. But feedback to date shows that this was a "massive underestimate" and that hundreds of quarries could be covered, which was not its intention.

We strongly recommend that any quarry operators who believe that their operations would be caught by the new regime should prepare a submission to MBIE, particularly on where the line for "in scope" operations should lie.

MBIE's website contains all of the relevant documents, including a full copy of its proposals and submission forms at www.dol.govt.nz/consultation/safe-mines/index.asp.

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