Coal Workers Pneumoconiosis – Amended Regulations

Parliament has introduced the Mining Safety and Health Legislation (Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis and Other Matters) Amendment Regulation 2016 (Qld).

The amended regulations take effect from 1 January 2017. They primarily affect dust management obligations and medical assessments for Queensland coal operators, requiring:

  • for development or longwall operations – reporting dust monitoring results at a minimum of once every three months
  • advising inspectors whenever dust concentrations exceed prescribed limits
  • reporting all identified cases of coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP), along with some other occupational lung diseases, to the Department of Natural Resources and Mines
  • providing respiratory function/x-ray examinations for retiring mine workers on request.

Under the amended regulations, new coal mine workers must undertake a chest x-ray when they start work in the industry, and must undertake further respiratory function and chest x-ray examinations at least as often as prescribed (five years for underground workers; ten years for open-cut). The results of these examinations must then be assessed against previous results (where available).

Further changes may be on the horizon with the CWP Select Committee due to report to the Queensland Parliament by 12 April 2017. This is likely to result in corresponding changes in other mining jurisdictions, particularly New South Wales and Western Australia.

Rail safety laws

On 8 July 2016, Queensland introduced new fatigue management provisions into the Transport (Rail Safety) Regulation 2010 (Qld). The new rules commence operation on 1 July 2017 and apply to both freight and passenger trains. These fatigue rules are largely the same as those in NSW under its Rail Safety National Law. Other jurisdictions subject to the Rail Safety National Law are considering similar changes.

The rules introduce limits around the rosters which may be set by rolling stock operators, by prescribing maximum shift lengths and allocations, and minimum rest break lengths. They also expand the content requirements for an Operator's 'Fatigue Management Program'. The new prescribed hours consist of:

  • what can be described as the 'standard' configuration of hours; or
  • an 'alternative work and rest hours approval' for alternative hours to that prescribed standard, granted on application to the Chief Executive (via the Rail Safety Regulator).

The Queensland Transportation and Utilities Committee has also recommended Parliament pass the Rail Safety National Law (Queensland) Bill 2016 (Qld) to adopt the Rail Safety National Law. If Parliament passes the Bill, it will take effect on 30 June 2017. This will bring the Queensland rail safety laws in line with the harmonised Rail Safety National Law in other Australian jurisdictions.

Queensland passes WHS-style Chain of Responsibility (CoR) laws for heavy vehicles

Queensland is the host jurisdiction for the Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL). On 1 December 2016, the Queensland parliament passed the Heavy Vehicle National Law and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2016 (Qld) to update the HVNL's CoR and executive officer liability provisions.

The changes will be mirrored and take effect in each of the harmonised jurisdictions (except the Northern Territory) in mid-2018. Of the non harmonised jurisdictions (WA and Victoria), WA passed similar CoR legislation in early 2015.

The changes operate by requiring all parties in a position to control or influence on-road behaviour for heavy vehicles (drivers, prime contractors, operators, schedulers, consignors, consignees, packers, loading managers, loaders, unloaders) to ensure – so far as is reasonably practicable – the safety of their transport activities. They also require officers to exercise 'due diligence' to ensure their organisations comply with this primary duty of care.

The Bill effectively switches the burden of proof for alleged CoR breaches from defendants to prosecutors.

Further changes to the CoR are expected. The Transport Minister's statement describes the CoR changes as 'represent[ing] the first of three phases of legislative review for this national reform project.'

Western Australia's move towards model WHS Act further delayed

WA is currently looking to modernise its workplace health and safety legislation framework. The Government has indicated that while some of the core principles will be consistent with the harmonised WHS laws, there will be significant departures from the model laws in some areas.

A 'green' bill for the modernisation process was released for consultation in late 2014. However, in June 2016, WorkSafe WA recommended 132 changes to the model WHS Regulations. The Minister of Commerce is currently still considering changes to the general WHS Bill on 4 October 2016, the WA Department of Mines and Petroleum confirmed the WHS Bill for the resources sector will not be read in the Parliament before the next State election in March 2017.