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Harmonisation challenges in the Queensland mining industry

The national model Work Health and Safety Act was designed to sweep in a single compliance regime for workplaces right around Australia, making safety obligations clear and slashing red tape, not so for the Queensland mining industry, says Norton Rose law firm partner Aaron Anderson.

It remains unclear how national OHS harmonisation is going to affect occupational health and safety obligations placed on the Queensland mining industry despite the Queensland Government passing the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) on 26 May 2011.

At this point, the advice from Government is that Queensland will continue to have a mining-specific occupational health and safety Act, however, that Act will be amended (at least to some extent) to try and achieve a level of consistency with the model OHS legislation.

The recent release of the WHS Act lends credence to this advice, given that the WHS Act maintains the exclusive application of mining-specific legislation.

Given the nature of the obligations in the WHS Act, i.e. obligations which are qualified by the concept of reasonable practicability, it is unlikely that there will be any significant change to the nature of the duties under the mining legislation which already includes an obligation to ensure an acceptable level of risk.

Similarly, there seems to be reluctance to remove the current structure setting out how mines should properly be managed, including statutory positions such as Site Senior Executives and concepts such as a health and safety management system. While there may be some changes around the terminology and application of some of these principles, we expect that they will operate in a similar fashion under a new system.

Similarly, in areas like ventilation of underground mines, given recent tragedies, including that in New Zealand, we suspect that the tried and tested methods of managing gas and coal dust will remain largely the same.

Areas where we expect to see change are in relation to matters such as officer duties, consultation between duty holders, issue resolution and discrimination. These are easy pickups and would allow greater consistency. Much will depend on the process being undertaken between the mining states in relation to the National Mine Safety Framework, and whether broad agreement can be reached between those regulators. If that is the case, at least to the extent that mining operations exist in Queensland, New South and Western Australia, we could expect to see some commonality.

Aaron Anderson is a specialist in occupational health and safety law and injury claims management at Norton Rose based in Brisbane.

He has extensive experience in advising clients on occupational health and safety matters in various industries including mining, construction, food safety, manufacturing, electricity, property and transport. An experienced advocate, he has successfully defended a number of prosecutions on behalf of clients as well as advising on a broad range of safety and injury management matters such as compliance and incident response management. Aaron is also actively involved in assisting clients to understand and develop compliance regimes at operational and corporate governance levels, including compliance with the new model OHS laws.

Aaron’s clients include Abigroup, Leighton Contractors, Bechtel, New Hope Coal, Rocla, Stockland and P&H MinePro. He has been acknowledged as “developing into probably one of Queensland’s best” in the OHS space (Doyle’s Guide to the Australian Legal Profession, October 2009).

Aaron is an active trainer and presenter and has appeared in the state and federal industrial relations commissions, the Anti-Discrimination Commission and Industrial Magistrates Court.

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AMSJ Nov 2021