Significant mine worker safety and health changes passed – and more to come!
Following our detailed comments in our 28 September 2017 Insight article and the update in our 15 May 2018 Insight article, the Mines Legislation (Resources Safety) Amendment Bill 2018 (Bill) was passed by the Queensland Parliament on 31 October 2018. The Bill was supported by both the Government and the Opposition.
As a result, significant changes to the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) (CMSHA) and the Mining and Quarrying Safety and Health Act 1999 (Qld) (MQSHA) will be made that will affect, among other things, duties of officers, reporting requirements for mine worker diseases, reporting defects and hazards affecting plant and substances, incorporating contractor and service provider plans and increasing penalties and inspector powers.
The changes will come into effect on assent from the Governor, with some minor amendments about requirements for ventilation officers to commence on a date to be fixed by proclamation.
Arising out of recommendations made by the Education, Employment and Small Business Committee that we discussed in our previous Insight:
- the changes do not yet include who will be defined as a ‘contractor’. In response to that recommendation, consultation is ongoing about how this will be clarified. This gap will mean that there will now be challenges when deciding how contractor safety and health management information is to be considered as part of a single, integrated SHMS for mine sites, with the default position being that, in the absence of a definition, all contractors’ information must be considered, regardless of the type of work or service the contractor performs; and
- the changes also do not yet allow for an expanded notification requirement to require site senior executives (SSEs) to be notified, on a confidential basis, of relevant cases of reportable diseases. Such notifications would have the common sense outcome of enabling SSEs to be aware of these issues and to take steps to manage any risks to worker health and safety. The reason for the failure to address this issue was stated by the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, the Hon. Dr Anthony Lynham, to be based on the need to further consider worker privacy and confidentiality issues.
As an extra Halloween ‘spook’ for the industry, the Minister also confirmed as part of the Second Reading of the Bill that other significant changes to health and safety regulation in the mining sector remain under consideration. Relevantly, the Minister stated that policy proposals are being developed arising out of last year’s parliamentary select committee’s report on coal workers’ pneumoconiosis and the consideration of industrial manslaughter offences. The Minister noted that consultation about those matters is ongoing with industry, unions and other stakeholders.
It is therefore expected that additional legislative amendments about those matters will be developed. We will continue to monitor these proposed changes and will provide future updates.
In the meantime, we repeat our previous recommendations for implementing measures to deal with the changes resulting from the passing of the Bill, and are available to assist with achieving compliance. This will become especially important given that ‘officers’ of corporations will now owe health and safety duties under the CMSHA and MQSHA and, more broadly, the existing penalties that may be imposed for breaches of those laws will be significantly increased.
As was noted in our 28 September 2017 Insight article, the introduction of the new penalties means that for the most serious offence (being a contravention causing multiple deaths), the maximum available penalty for a corporation will be 30,000 penalty units ($3,916,500); for an officer will be 6000 penalty units ($783,300) or three years imprisonment; and for a worker 3000 penalty units ($391,650) or three years imprisonment.
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This publication covers legal and technical issues in a general way. It is not designed to express opinions on specific cases. It is intended for information purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice. Further advice should be obtained before taking action on any issue dealt with in this publication.