The Queensland government has released plans for new coal and metalliferous mine safety laws focusing on harmonising Queensland laws with those in other States and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). The proposed changes could, in some cases, lead to one-off transitional costs or ongoing higher compliance costs.

Four options considered

Plans to implement the whole or part of the nationally harmonised mining safety laws in Queensland were released on 11 September 2013 for public consultation. These plans include options to introduce new mining safety laws which reflect the ‘non-core’ mining safety laws recently introduced in New South Wales.

For this purpose, proposed alternatives for amending or replacing the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) and Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) have been outlined.

The Department of Natural Resources and Mines (“DNRM”) appears to have ruled out creating a single Act to regulate health and safety at coal and metalliferous mines on the basis that it would be more costly and difficult to use.

Other options put forward for consultation are to:

  • retain the existing Acts and amend them to include specific nationally harmonised provisions (“Option 1”);
  • prepare two new separate Acts based on the nationally harmonised mining safety laws (“Option 2”); or
  • do nothing.

Option 1

The proposed Option 1 would likely involve:

  • tightening the contractor management provisions to clarify that contractors should be complying with the general safety and health management system for the mine, reflecting general standards for industry practice;
  • requiring competence certificates for specified duty holders such as radiation safety officers. This would likely involve increased costs to industry;
  • increasng the regulation of high risk work and other amendments such as increasing stonedusting requirements; and
  • some limited amendments to harmonise certain duties or obligations under the mining safety laws with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld).

Option 2

Option 2 could be similar to the form of legislation recently introduced in New South Wales where specific mining safety laws would apply as well as the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld). In addition to those amendments suggested in Option 1, Option 2 would involve likely changes to:

  • executive officer liability, with executive officers being proposed to be subject to a positive duty to conduct due diligence into the company’s compliance with health and safety laws. This is a significantly different obligation in comparison to current “deemed” executive officer liability;
  • actions required to be undertaken in respect of specific risks. Currently the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 (Qld) imposes different express standards and requirements in respect of how to respond to risks such as falls, confined spaces and health monitoring. It is unclear whether a transitional period will be created to allow industry to adjust to the differing standards as has occurred in various States and Territories (except Queensland) when the nationally harmonised general health and safety laws were implemented;
  • rights of safety representatives to stop work and enter workplaces; and
  • penalties, alternative enforcement mechanisms (eg. adverse publicity orders) and management of prosecutions and convictions. Penalties are proposed to be aligned with the higher penalties in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) and rights to appeal convictions may be amended.