AMSJ » How the west was won

How the west was won

MINE TRUCKSIn his role as Safety Executive Director at Western Australia’s Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) Resources Safety, Simon Ridge is the man at the helm of a program to reform and develop safety in the WA’s resources sector. In this edition’s Feature Interview, Simon provides a report on RADARS’s successes to date and discusses plans to review current penalties for non-compliant companies.

What events or decisions prompted the DMP to initiate the Reform and Development at Resources Safety (RADARS) strategy?

The department formulated RADARS in 2010, in response to a spate of mining fatalities and needs identified in independent reviews and inquiries, such as the 2009 Kenner Review of the Mines Safety and Inspection Act 1994.

Is there a case for harsher penalties for mine operators who don’t meet their safety obligations?

DMP is carrying out a major review into ‘noncompliance’ penalties that apply to the WA resources industry. The department will be comparing WA’s existing penalty structure against other jurisdictions, scrutinising the effectiveness of different enforcement actions across the nation and globe.

A variety of penalties are set to come under the spotlight, including staff and manager liability, corporate manslaughter, demerits points systems, and penalties directly related to a company’s size and profit. Some of the penalties currently imposed by DMP across areas like safety include verbal and written warnings, notices, suspensions, prosecutions and fines.

The review is part of the department’s ongoing efforts to ensure WA continues to set national and international benchmarks through robust legislation and regulation.

What are the ultimate goals of RADARS and how are you working to achieve them?

To save lives and reduce injuries, industry and DMP must work together to make the necessary cultural changes. While extra safety resources and legislation help, significant reductions in incidents can only be achieved if a resilient safety culture is encouraged and maintained.

RADARS addresses how DMP, as the regulator, will work with industry to reduce serious accidents across its three resources safety regulatory areas — mining and exploration, petroleum and geothermal energy, and dangerous goods.

The ultimate goal for industry is zero harm across the Western Australian resources sector. This means no fatalities and no serious injuries.

2012 was the first fatality-free year for the minerals sector since 1896. In addition, the lost time injury frequency rate for mining decreased by more than 50 per cent during the past decade. However, serious accidents are still occurring.

Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) is working with industry to create an environment where ‘resilient’ safety cultures are the norm. Consultation, communication and active participation are paramount to making this happen, and DMP has further enhanced its transparency, so companies, employees and the wider community can be confident that the industry is operating as safely as possible.

DMP is also encouraging a risk management approach to become the norm across the industry, and RADARS reinforces and promotes this. Work programs have been devised which focus on how to reduce the likelihood of a serious incident.

DMP has boosted its Safety Inspector team to include 111 experts. This includes 16 Petroleum Safety Inspectors, 28 Dangerous Goods Officers and 67 Mines Safety Inspectors who conduct more than 2500 inspections and audits across the State every year.

Through inspections, investigations, audits, clear communication and consultation and careful risk management, DMP is raising industry’s awareness of what needs to be done to achieve the ultimate goal of zero harm.

How is RADARS addressing the all-important issue of developing a culture of safety in the resources sector?

Providing tangible support to industry as it progresses towards a resilient safety culture requires DMP to find the right balance between promoting safety practices, monitoring the compliance of legislation and enforcing it. DMP works closely with companies, building a strong rapport to promote the safety culture so that it becomes the norm.

Safety roadshows, workshops and the Resources Safety Matters magazine are all means for promoting the benefits of a resilient safety culture.

What areas of mine safety will RADARS particularly focus on over the next 6 months and why?

Last year was the first fatality-free year the Western Australian minerals industry has seen since 1896. Although safety standards are generally very high, with the lost time injury frequency rate decreasing by more than 50 per cent during the past decade, serious accidents are still occurring.

Areas of focus include:

  •  Continuing to work with mining companies to understand their operations and provide guidance as required to ensure hazards are controlled effectively.
  •  Further development and use of the DMP’s online Safety Regulation System (SRS) as the main communication tool and source of information for both industry and the inspectorate.
  •  Continued consultation with industry and the provision of information and advice, including the identification of emerging issues and their impacts (e.g. automation).

“The ultimate goal for industry is zero harm across the Western Australian resources sector. This means no fatalities and no serious injuries.”

The problem of drugs and alcohol in the resources sector is increasingly becoming a top issue for safety professionals. Do you think there needs to be more and stricter testing of workers? Are penalties for infringement harsh enough?

DMP continues to work with industry to support a positive cultural change. Increasing workers’ understanding of their duty of care to themselves and others to be fit for work and not endanger their workmates, and the important role everyone plays in creating a safe working environment, are likely to produce more sustained outcomes than relying on testing regimes.

DMP is currently undergoing a recruitment drive for team leaders and Regional Inspectors of Mines. What kind of people are you looking for? Are qualifications and years of service the most important factor, or are you looking for a certain type of personality that can change ingrained workplace cultures?

The current recruitment drive for team leaders is part of the Attraction and Retention initiative (ARI), which ensures DMP has the most experienced leaders possible. The successful candidates will be highly qualified with a proven track record of being strong leaders.

The positions available are high-level government positions, so experience and qualifications are important to be able to take responsibility, promote accountability and motivate others to encourage a resilient safety culture.

What successes has RADARS achieved to date?

The RADARS strategy has taken a holistic and multi-faceted approach to the reform of safety and health regulatory services in the WA resources sector. It is built on an important State Government policy decision that provided for cost-recovery funding from the minerals sector. This model has an inherent industry performance incentive.

While RADARS has enabled DMP to increase specialist mines safety staff by one-third, the reform process has gone significantly further than increasing resources and provides a strong example of effective business process reform. Key elements of the approach include:

  •  Enhanced stakeholder engagement and collaboration.
  •  More effective and efficient use of technology and knowledge management.
  •  Increasing workforce capability through recruitment and tailored training and development.
  •  Ongoing evaluation of industry’s perceptions of RADARS to measure progress and identify gaps.

In 2012, there were no mining fatalities in WA. DMP does not claim a cause-and-effect relationship for the RADARS strategy, particularly in light of the recent fatality in August 2013. However, the reforms, and processes supporting the reforms, are seen as contributing to enhanced safety outcomes in this important area of the public services.

Simon Ridge

Simon Ridge has been with the Department of Mines and Petroleum since 2009, quickly becoming an integral figure in implementing significant change within the Western Australian resources sector.

Simon started his career as a geologist and mining engineering trainee in Zambia, then an underground shift boss in Botswana before relocating to Pannawonica to change paths and become a mining engineer.

In 2012, Simon was nationally recognised for his exceptional contribution to safety and reform in the state’s mining industry. 

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AMSJ April 2022