Key Points:

The Bill has harmonised the framework for work health and safety regulation across all onshore resource industries in NSW, and has brought much needed clarity to regulation of the petroleum industry.

A Bill recently passed by NSW State Parliament aligns work health and safety laws at petroleum sites with existing WHS laws for mine sites and strengthens the powers of work health and safety inspectors.

The reform package

On 21 October 2015 a package of five Bills to reform mining and petroleum laws was passed by State Parliament. As we noted when they were introduced, this heralds significant changes for current and future mining and petroleum projects.

The Bills overhaul the existing regulatory framework which, as identified by Mr Roberts in his second reading speech, was "outmoded, overlapping and increasingly complex" and contributed to "a loss of investment and community confidence in the resources sector." The regulatory revamp addresses where and how areas for coal and petroleum will be explored, how land access agreements are negotiated, and how this can be achieved ensuring both safety and competitiveness.

The Bills in the reform package are interlinked; each Bill depends on the others to be effective. This article focuses on the Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum) Legislation Amendment (Harmonisation) Bill 2015.

The Work Health and Safety Bill

The Bill, the fourth of the reform package, aligns work health and safety laws at petroleum sites with existing laws that apply to the rest of the resources sector.

Former regulation of the petroleum sector

The petroleum sector was previously subject to the broad requirements of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. Specific petroleum safety requirements depended on the Petroleum (Onshore) Act 1991 and the 1992 schedule of Onshore Petroleum Exploration and Production Safety Requirements.

The Schedule was both complex and outdated in terms of managing work health and safety issues. The Bill brings petroleum sites in line with the broader, more rigorous and proactive regulatory framework of the Work Health and Safety (Mines) Act 2013 which had formerly applied only to workplaces defined as "mines".

Key changes to NSW safety laws for the onshore petroleum industry

The Bill extends the Work Health and Safety (Mines) Act to cover the onshore petroleum industry. This raises the standards of work health and safety in the petroleum sector to be consistent with the minerals sector.

The Bill also makes provision for risk controls for the specific risks of the petroleum industry. It is anticipated to enhance the effectiveness of government in this sector, reduce the administrative burden on industry, and allow for better service delivery.

So, what are the key definitions, powers and duties that you need to be aware of?

  • The Principal Act has been extended from "mines" to also include "petroleum sites", being workplaces at which petroleum operations are carried out.
  • Previously, regulation of petroleum work health and safety was targeted at the petroleum titleholder. However, most petroleum sites are managed and controlled by other entities. The Bill extends the duties framework to the petroleum operator, workers, contractors and occupiers of work premises.
  • The Bill clarifies the activities and places to which the Work Health and Safety (Mines) Act applies. It defines "local site" in relation to mining activities or petroleum activities to mean the site at which those activities are carried out, an adjoining site or a site in the vicinity of those operations. The definition of mining and petroleum operations and activities would include activities (including the handling, preparing, processing or storing of extracted materials) carried out in connection with mining or petroleum activities at a local site, activities prescribed by regulation and activities specified by the responsible Minister.
  • The Bill clarifies provisions relating to the definition of "regulator" to ensure that the Department of Industry, SafeWork NSW and those appointed under the Work Health and Safety (Mines) Act and the Work Health and Safety Act all have jurisdiction in any workplace in NSW. The regulator can also appoint a consultant employed by a public authority (not just an officer or employee) as a government official for the purposes of the Work Health and Safety (Mines) Act, to act as an inspector.
  • The Work Health and Safety (Mines) Act imposes a duty to give notice to the regulator of "notifiable incidents": the death of a person, a prescribed serious injury or illness, or a prescribed dangerous incident. The Bill extends this duty to petroleum operations. It also includes petroleum in the boards of inquiry of all work health and safety matters.
  • Previously, only an inspector appointed under the Work Health and Safety (Mines) Act had the power to reopen or release a preserved incident site. The Bill extends this power to other appropriate officials for both mining and petroleum sites to reduce any unnecessary regulatory burden.

Overall, the Bill has harmonised the framework for work health and safety regulation across all onshore resource industries in NSW, and has brought much needed clarity to regulation of the petroleum industry.