Quarrying & Mining Magazine
Q&MWorkplace Safety

Straterra’s point of view on health and safety

Chris Baker
Chris Baker

The following is a précis of the speech that CHRIS BAKER, chair of MinEx and CEO of Straterra, made to the 2015 QuarryNZ conference last month.

I know there have been many concerns raised within the quarry sector over recent months; what right has MinEx to represent quarries; don’t they understand, a quarry is very different to a mine; how can regulations developed in response to a disaster in an u/g coal mine apply to us; and quarry workers are very different to mine workers.

And of course, I know, underpinning all these concerns is this challenge; how do we make our workplaces safer.

First, I want to provide some context for the regulations issue: the Pike River coal mine tragedy was completely avoidable. It was a tragedy born of governance and management failure.

As an aside – any one interested in Pike River, or how disasters occur, or companies fail, should read the book on Pike River by Rebecca McFee. An excellent read, accurate, very well researched and totally across the issues. I’m not Rebecca’s agent, but I’d be happy to be!

So yes, that tragedy was completely avoidable. I am equally confident in asserting that the three quarry fatalities that have occurred this year were also completely avoidable.

So we have a problem here. And it’s the response to that problem that is at issue here. After Pike River, the government set up the Pike River Royal Commission. We all think the commission did an excellent job and all of the 16 recommendations made in the Royal Commission’s report were adopted by the Government.

That led in 2012 to the formation of the Pike River Implementation Team, and, over a remarkably short period of time, to the development and introduction of the 2013 Mining Regulations.

About the same time as the Government was acting on the Pike River Royal Commission recommendations, the Government formed the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety – generally referred to as the Jager Taskforce.

The brief for this taskforce was to: Provide an assessment of the current performance of the workplace health and safety system (across the economy); and recommend by 30 April 2013 a package of practical measures that would be expected to reduce the rate of fatalities and serious injuries by at least 25 percent by 2020.

This report was released in April 2013 and the key finding was summarised in their press release. “Workplace Health and Safety Taskforce calls for urgent, broad-based change. New Zealand’s workplace health and safety system has a number of critical weaknesses and needs major systemic changes to save lives,” says Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety chairman, Rob Jager.

Jager says the current system “is not fit for purpose”.

“We believe there is no single critical factor that can account for New Zealand’s high rate of serious injuries and fatalities suffered at work. Rather, we believe that our workplace health and safety system has a number of significant weaknesses across the full range of system components that need to be addressed if we are to achieve a major step-change in performance.”

So this is the context for the current discussion – for the new H&S Bill before Parliament and for the proposition for new Quarry Regulations. Pike River was the catalyst, and the 2013 Mining Regulations proceeded ahead of the Jager Taskforce, but it is the findings of that taskforce, that H&S across NZ needs a major upgrade, that is the driving force for the changes we face.

We must have safer workplaces. Safety performance must improve. Pike River made it clear that regulations have a vital role to play, and, if any convincing was required, recent fatalities in the quarry sector make it clear that changes are necessary.

I want to return now to the 2013 Mining Regulations – and address some of the concerns, and misunderstandings, that have appeared in various discussions amongst the quarry sector.

It’s true the Mining Regulations started off using the Queensland Mining Regulations as a model and focused on underground coal.

Can you imagine the howls of protest from the gold sector? I recall many conversations with the mine manager at Macraes, or with his boss, and the next up the ladder from Melbourne, and with Newmont Waihi Gold – “how can coal regulations work for a gold mine, they’ll put us out of business. We need a separate set of regulations,” they said.

Some of those comments will resonate with many of you, I’m sure. And it’s also true, generally bureaucrats didn’t understand these differences – but by the time we had finished, and Les (McCracken) played a major part in this, they did. Of course, some good appointments made a difference also.

The 2013 Mining Regulations work for u/g coal, o/c coal, u/g gold and o/c gold, and tunnels. They’re certainly not perfect, they need changes, but largely they work. And they are now not ‘Queensland Regulations’. They are in fact, a mix of the regulations from different jurisdictions, adapted for New Zealand. Fit for purpose in New Zealand.

Do they work for smaller mines? Well, there are no smaller hard rock gold mines. There are smaller coal mines however, not that many, but none have gone out of business as a result of the 2013 Mining Regulations.

The regulations are heavy handed in some areas and changes are needed and there is no doubt these changes are more important for small operations.

So you need to understand, although the 2013 Mining Regulations were developed in a remarkably short time, industry – mostly through MinEx – put a huge amount of work into the regulations. There were few constraints placed on our input and they have been in use now since December 2013.

The other important aspect of these regulations is that they are risk based. The old regulations from 1980, something that many fondly refer to, were prescriptive, and, you will be interested to know, those regulations covered both mining and quarries, suffice for me to say that safety performance under the risk-based regimes introduced in other jurisdictions has improved majorly – fewer LTIs, fewer fatalities. Period.

So that gives you some context for the 2013 Mining Regulations.

I want to turn now to MinEx:

MinEx was formed to share resources between the mining and quarry sectors, to be more effective in our work with government on improving health and safety management in workplaces, and to help industry achieve the H&S safety improvements I discussed earlier when I spoke about the Jager Taskforce.

When the Government adopted the recommendations of the Pike River Royal Commission report in late 2012, the resource sector, and I include quarries in that definition, had no strategy, coherence or capability to deal constructively or effectively with government on H&S matters, or with H&S at an industry level.

That was a problem because the Government was, quite rightly, on a track that was going to have a major effect on us all, whatever we did.

So we raised some funds, contracted Les, came to an arrangement with Straterra and the AQA and, simply, got on with the job.

I know there have been various arguments and criticisms about MinEx – but here are the facts. We have a business plan, approved by AQA, IOQ, Straterra, the coal sector and, most importantly, the MinEx board. That board comprises: the chair and deputy chair of AQA, myself and Glen Grindlay from Straterra, Joe Edwards from CCNZ, Ray Urquhart from EPMU, Gordon Laing (who needs no introduction) from IOQ and, wearing two hats but with only one vote, Les representing AusIMM.

Funding comes from the quarry sector, Straterra members, the coal sector, and we hope to see more members from the service sector.

A couple of final observations.

If we set out, from scratch, to develop a set of regulations specifically for quarries, the result would look remarkably like the 2013 Mining Regulations. Not the book itself, but the parts that applied to your operation. They would be risk based, and nobody, anywhere, is going to argue that a regulation developed for a specific activity in a mine, should be any different than a regulation developed for the same activity in a quarry – least of all the regulators and they have a fair bit of say on this issue.

My last observation is this: the mining sector invests close to $1 million per annum in Straterra. That has allowed us to build a capability, and influence, that is far and away better than our sector has ever had before. Ask any of our members, or MBIE, WS, or MITO.

We want to work with the quarry sector on H&S because collectively we can do more than we can on our own. That is Government Relations 101. However, if the quarry sector wants to work separate from us – no problem. My Straterra board would probably give me a small slap on the wrist and expect me to get on with what we need to do regardless.

But I can say, we bring a drive and a capability to improve safety, we want to make a difference, like all of you we want our workers to go home safely every night, and we can achieve those things much more effectively if we work together.

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