By Andy Loader.
It is common knowledge that there is a shortage of Quarry Managers who hold current certificates of Competency (CoCs).
This situation has come about with the change to the requirements for attaining CoC’s and after a large number of existing holders made the decision to relinquish their old certificate rather than go through the renewal process. A decision made in many cases made as a result of age and closeness to career retirement.
For many years our industry has featured a very high percentage of managers in the older age bracket (late fifties to sixties) and many of them had held their CoCs for many years. The words I have heard repeated many times in the past few years is ‘why should I bother attaining further unit standards when I haven’t got long to go to retirement’?
The result of this has seen our industry struggling to make up the management numbers it requires to operate.
The present system of unit standard based accreditation for gaining a CoC requires a higher level of literacy and numeracy than the old system. Although this is a good thing, it also creates further difficulties in attracting suitably skilled staff who are also willing to accept the responsibility and level of liability that goes with a manager’s position.
This is not a problem that is going to be solved in a short timeframe as the unit standard based system of training, assessment and accreditation along with the requirement for an oral interview, takes some time to complete.
On top of this the pandemic has severely affected the CoC programme and many of the old certificates will be well past their expiry dates, even if the renewal application has been made at least three months prior to expiry of the current certificate.
It came to my notice very recently that a Worksafe inspector had visited a site where a contractor was levelling an area for a subdivision, and they informed the onsite supervisor that they would be required to have a ‘manager’ on site with a current CoC, as the site fell within the definition of a quarry. He also stated that if they did not appoint a current CoC holder to manage the site then he would issue a prohibition notice on the basis that they were not complying with legal requirements.
When I heard this I first thought that it was a bit of a stretch to consider the operation to fit the definition of a quarry, and then I thought I better have a fresh look at the definition to ensure that I had the facts straight in my own mind. I have copied the definition from the third schedule of the Act.
3 Meaning of quarrying operation
In this schedule, quarrying operation means an activity carried out above ground for the purpose of extracting any material, other than coal or any mineral, from the earth; or
processing any material, other than coal or any mineral, at the place where the material is extracted; and includes the place where an activity described in paragraph (a) is carried out; and
includes any place in which any material extracted or processed in a quarry is crushed or screened.
Subclause (1) applies whether or not the material is to be extracted or processed for commercial gain and whether or not the material is extracted or processed by the use of explosives.
After I checked the definition in the Act I went to the Worksafe website to try to find out if there was any information that gave a guide to the ‘interpretation’ of this definition and could not find anything.
Therefore, I have to assume that the definition as it is written in the 3rd Schedule is how Worksafe will interpret the meaning of a quarry and, if this is the case, the inspector had been right to ask for a current CoC holder to be appointed to manage this sub-division site.
Furthermore, using that assumption, this means that any operation where material other than coal, or any mineral, is being extracted from the earth becomes a ‘quarry’ by definition. So where does the definition of a quarry start and stop?
Are we to assume that every construction site, road works etc. that involves extracting material from the earth becomes a quarry under that definition and is required to have on site a current CoC holder? Should this be the case, we are in a seriously bad situation in the demand for CoC holders who don’t exist.
Then we have the absolutely crazy situation where you can operate a plant recycling materials by crushing and screening, without any need for a certificated manager, as this type of operation does not fit the definition of a quarry as written in the schedule 3 (the purpose of my recycling operation is not in any way connected to extracting any material from the earth).
And I can set up a recycling operation of any size with any number of staff and do exactly the same things as a quarry does using the same machinery and methods.
And given the nature of the product that I may be dealing with (crushing concrete containing reinforcing steel) the risk factors can be much greater than an operation simply crushing rock.
In my opinion the industry has a couple of options.
Change the definition to give better focus on what constitutes a quarry; change the system of accreditation to make it faster to gain the extra required CoC holders; remove the requirement for CoCs altogether – as is the case in other industries such as construction, forestry, and farming; or simply change the regulations around the requirements for CoC holders.
I also believe that the definition should cover all crushing and screening operations as they all have the same hazards/risk factors and, therefore, should have the same requirements for certified managers accordingly, and not be limited just because the raw materials being worked are not extracted from the ‘earth’.
Given that other industry groups have a worse record for incidents/injuries than the extractive industries, I do not believe that we should remove the need for CoCs. In fact, I believe that these statistical records actually show that the other industries with worse records should be looked at with the possibility of implementing some type of similar managerial qualification for health and safety.
Any decision to try and effect change to regulations is not going to happen quickly and is not a realistic option to solve this problem.
If we just turn a blind eye to this situation and do nothing, then we are going to find we will run out of CoC holders very quickly and stall important development projects in the infrastructure, extractive, mining and civil construction sectors.
And, how will Worksafe police and enforce a COC requirement if it has such a broad application across these sectors?