On 4 October 2011, the Resources Safety Division of the Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) hosted the seventh annual edition of the Mines Safety Roadshow in Perth. The programme provided an overview of the latest developments in the safety reform process, examined industry performance and trends over the last year and identified some key safety issues for each mining region in WA.

The following is a summary of the key legal issues covered at the Roadshow.

Nationalisation of Occupational Health and Safety Legislation Update

The DMP advised participants of the Roadshow that the nationalisation of mining safety laws in Western Australia is not likely to occur by 1 January 2012 and is more likely to come into force in mid or late next year.

Discussion took place about one of the changes that will come into effect under the nationalised laws, the principal hazard management plans. It was suggested that many companies will be able to develop on their current system in order to achieve compliance with this part of the legislation. The DMP indicated that it will be preparing guidelines and training to assist industry with achieving compliant principal hazard management plans.

Developing a resilient workplace safety culture

The DMP suggested that a number of factors contribute towards creating a resilient workplace safety culture, including:

  • sharing responsibility for safety among all levels;
  • rewarding people who report safety incidents and potential hazards; and
  • ensuring that failures in safe work systems are subject to thorough and far-reaching investigations.  

Employers should work towards ensuring that their safety managements systems address and encourage these issues identified by the DMP.

Mental Health

At this year's Roadshow there was a strong focus on mental health issues in the mining industry. It is important in this regard, to remember that an employers duties under section 9(1) of the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994 to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure employees are not exposed to hazards includes mental health hazards.  It was recognised during a facilitated workshop conducted as part of the Roadshow that managing mental health presents a challenge in the mining industry in:

  • identifying that a worker at a mine site had a mental health problem; and 
  • getting the affected worker to speak to someone about the problem.   

ACRRMH, the facilitator of the workshop, suggested one approach to highlight the issue and encourage workers to come forward to discuss mental health issues was to develop posters and brochures that could be put up and distributed in break areas containing contact information for relevant support services. It was also suggested that mental health should be addressed in recruitment and induction processes, and introduced into company OHS policies and procedures as an area of focus.

Consideration should be given in your safety management system as to how you can best respond to potential mental health issues on your sites.

Areas the DMP intend to focus on this year

The attendees at the Roadshow were advised that the DMP intends to focus on the following areas this year due to the number of fatalities that have arisen from these activities:

  • maintenance systems;
  • construction activities;
  • traffic management;
  • contractor management; 
  • guarding;
  • crane usage; and
  • elevated work platforms.

In order to try to ensure that issues do not arise at your mine sites in relation to these activities, we recommend that you access the DMP's Significant Incident Reports which are accessible on the Resources Safety section of the DMP website and consider if any of the recommendations the DMP have made to address the issues that the significant incidents have identified can and should be implemented at your mine sites. This is particularly important given the recent prosecution of Quadtilla for failing to act on Worksafe Safety Alerts discussed in our Client Alert "Be alert: Industry Alerts can impact your safety obligations" sent on 26 September 2011.

Update on Ward Prosecutions

In our Client Alert issued on 26 September we also discussed the prosecutions in relation to the death of aboriginal elder Mr Ward. 

On Wednesday of last week Nina Stokoe, the driver of the van, changed her plea to guilty and a fine of $11,000 out of a possible $20,000 was imposed by the Magistrate's Court. This is the highest fine imposed on an individual in Western Australia. 

The four prosecutions issued in relation to Mr Ward's death should be viewed as a salient reminder that safety duties are owed to all persons who enter a workplace for the purposes of their work activities.