The draft OHS documents for mining in Australia seemed like a fairly rudimentary release in Australia’s move to harmonisation of its safety laws but several issues have appeared in the media since the draft’s release.
The CEO of the New South Wales Minerals Council, Nikki Williams, found something other than the carbon tax to discuss during the council’s annual safety conference.
Although her audience is principally NSW miners, Williams does have a national perspective.
“Each State is drafting their new laws individually and using different models. There are missing components and a large number of inconsistencies.
If this process continues unchecked, the prospect of genuine legislative reform that will deliver a world leading mining regulatory framework appears very remote.
“We are deeply disappointed that this has not been resolved and question why the core WHS regulations couldn’t be developed to effectively regulate all mining states.”
In some ways, Williams’ words show a misunderstanding of the laws. The laws are intended to manage mining, not the companies, not the States, not the workers. The safety of the mining process is the target. It is possible to focus on the safety of a process or industry without considering the politics, at the outset. The politics will intrude in the safety management process but that often exists outside of the documented processes of the law, codes of practice and guidances. Introducing politics into the reference documents taints safety management from the start.
In some ways, it is the politics of safety at a particular workplace or particular industry, or State, that makes “as far as is reasonably practicable” appear so complex. In the deliberation of AFAIRP, politics is not a consideration. Safe Work Australia, itself, has said AFAIRP is:
- “the likelihood of the relevant hazard or risk occurring
- the degree of harm that might result from the hazard or risk
- what the person knows, or ought reasonably to know, about the hazard or risk and the ways of eliminating or minimising the risk, and
- the availability and suitability of ways to eliminate or minimise the risk.
Only after assessing these matters can the cost of eliminating or minimising the risk be taken into account….”
If Williams sees the need for “disharmony” in OHS laws for the mining sector, how much of a challenge will the rail transport sector be with its hugely prescriptive “book of rules”, accreditation processes and standards compliance??