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2 Mar 12
Clarifying health and safety obligations at coal mines

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In a bid to make the safety and health obligations about rail corridors on or near coal mines easier to understand, the Office of the Commissioner for Mine Safety and Health has released an alert clarifying the interaction of the obligations under the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) (CMSH Act), Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (Qld) (WHS Act) and the Transport (Rail Safety) Act 2010 (Qld) (TRS Act).  Workplace Relations and Safety Partner, Cameron Dean highlights the key points.

The TRS Act applies to ‘railway operations, rail safety work and other activities associated with railway operations’.  The obligations under the TRS Act also encompass ‘rail infrastructure’ and ‘associated track structures’.  This creates some difficulty when trying to understand the safety obligations for interactions between coal mines and rail operations.  This is not ideal in an industry where safety is of paramount concern.

The Queensland Mines Inspectorate, Queensland Transport Rail Safety and Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (the Regulators) have together announced that in circumstances in which the TRS Act applies, it will override the CMHS Act.  Safety and health obligations will then be regulated by the TRS Act and WHS Act.  However, the complexity of the different scenarios in which coal mines and rail operations interact may still create some uncertainty, for which the Regulators recommend independent legal advice be sought.

Despite the attempted clarification, it is clear that incident management with respect to rail corridors remains complex.  The alert makes clear that 'Any actual incident within a rail corridor on, adjacent to, or contiguous with a coal mine will involve investigators from the Queensland Mines Inspectorate, Workplace Health and Safety and the Queensland Transport Rail Safety and Security Division'.

Understanding your obligations with respect to rail corridors will be the key to proactively managing safety and responding appropriately should an incident occur.  Where any uncertainty exists, legal advice should be sought to ensure you are complying with your obligations and to enable appropriate arrangements to be negotiated for the management of operations within rail corridors.  For useful examples on which obligations apply and to review the full safety alert, see:  Commissioner Safety Alert 3 - Rail Corridors on Coal mine sites

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If you have any questions about the WHS changes, please contact: