The NSW resources regulator stated all hazardous chemical incidents are avoidable and preventable. Hazardous chemical incidents are inherently dangerous and can impact the safety of workers and the community with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Provisions under NSW work health and safety laws provide mine operators directions on the use, handling, storage and notification requirements of hazardous chemicals. There are specific requirements to notify the regulator when certain quantities of hazardous chemicals are exceeded.
The Resources Regulator will actively engage with mine operators on hazardous chemical risk management onsite and support industry to meet their obligations under the work health and safety laws.
The Regulator will take a zero-tolerance approach where mine operators have not taken appropriate steps to manage hazardous chemical risks onsite.
The Resources Regulator said, ” we have reviewed the approach to the regulation of hazardous chemicals at mine and petroleum sites. In response, we will be strengthening our regulatory and compliance approach towards hazardous chemicals.”
“We have increased our focus on compliance and enforcement activities relating to hazardous chemicals at mine and petroleum sites and in early 2021 will commence a compliance priority program.”
“Moving forward, our compliance approach for hazardous chemicals will be consistent with that applied to the management of the prescribed principal hazards. In considering the definition of a principal hazard in accordance with cl5(a)(x) of the WHS (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Regulation 2014, it is our position that mine operators should consider hazardous chemicals as a principal hazard where large quantities of hazardous chemicals are stored or used at their mine, particularly where the quantities exceed the manifest quantities specified in schedule 11 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017 (WHS Regulation).”
“We will adopt the same compliance approach to hazardous chemicals as to the prescribed principal mining hazards, including a bow-tie risk assessment to inform our assessment of critical controls.”
“We are committed to working with industry to ensure health and safety obligations are being met, to reduce the number of hazardous chemical incidents and prevent potentially catastrophic events.”
The Resources Regulator have made improvements to our compliance database to include hazardous chemicals and explosives data notified under schedule 11 of the WHS Regulation. This information will assist with the risk profiling of mine and petroleum sites.
A range of mines use significant quantities of both explosives and hazardous chemicals. As a comparison, many of these sites exceed the threshold applied to major hazard facilities in non-mining workplaces. While mines and petroleum sites are exempt from the major hazard facility provisions in Chapter 9 of the WHS Regulation, it is considered appropriate that thresholds specified for major hazard facilities are applied when risk profiling mine sites to ensure consistency.
Mines and petroleum sites that use, handle or store manifest quantities of hazardous chemicals at volumes consistent with major hazard facilities will be treated as high-risk sites. This includes sites exceeding 10% of thresholds identified in schedule 15 of the WHS Regulation, relating to major hazard facilities.
Schedule 11 notifications
The quantities at which notification, placards and manifests of hazardous chemicals are required are outlined in schedule 11 of the WHS Regulation. Mines and petroleum sites are required to notify the regulator of excess manifest quantities of schedule 11 chemicals. These notifications are currently received by us via the SafeWork NSW on-line portal.
Work is underway to enable sites to submit schedule 11 notifications via our Regulator Portal. Operators will be notified when this functionality is available.
As part of this increased focus, the Resources Regulator will be providing ongoing and targeted advice and guidance to industry on the management of risks associated with hazardous chemicals.
Mine operators must ensure they comply with the NSW work health and safety laws and their duties in relation to hazardous chemicals onsite.
It is the Resources Regulator position that mine and petroleum sites that use, handle or store manifest quantities of hazardous chemicals at volumes consistent with major hazard facilities should be treating hazardous chemicals as a principal hazard (clause 5(a)(x) of the Work Health and Safety (Mines and Petroleum Sites) Regulation 2014).
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