NSW Regulator adopts safeguards to protect mine workers
The NSW Resources Regulator has provided an update outlining its approach to conducting inspections at mine sites during the COVID-19 outbreak. The NSW Resources Regulator is striving to balance the importance of performing its regulatory function against the infection risk to staff, their families, mineworkers and the reputational risk associated with the potential for staff to be responsible for transmitting the virus.
Several mine operators have voluntarily provided information that demonstrates a serious effort to manage the risk. However, in the face of the unprecedented pressure mine operators and workers are under from the threat posed by this virus, not to mention rapidly and significantly changing work patterns and processes as operators respond, the NSW Resources Regulator is concerned that this creates an environment where there is a significant and increased risk of mistakes being made. The fact that some mine operators have reported being stretched and under considerable pressure underpins these concerns.
While the NSW Resources Regulator has reduced the number of site assessments as a risk control measure, it will continue to send inspectors to mine sites and their assessment activities will be focused on the physical implementation of controls to manage the risk to workers arising from the impacts of COVID-19 — not just the health risks, also the broader safety risks. Normal planned assessment programs have been suspended; however, the NSW Resources Regulator will also continue to respond to incidents within the constraints imposed by its risk controls. It has also completed a risk assessment on attending mine sites and implemented controls that are at least as stringent as those in place in industry. This includes:
- Inspectors attending sites alone (where appropriate)
- Inspectors have allocated vehicles that are not shared with other staff
- Inspectors have been provided with necessary PPE
- Inspectors are not undertaking assessments outside of their regional locations
- An inspector will not enter a mine site if they exhibit a temperature or are otherwise symptomatic when subject to a health assessment on arrival
- Inspectors undertake a self-assessment daily and have been directed not to leave home if they display any cold or flu symptoms, or a temperature
- Inspectors will comply with all reasonable directions intended to minimise transmission risk at a mine site.
The NSW Resources Regulator has also implemented a range of other controls to reduce the likelihood of exposure, including remote working, extensive use of videoconferencing, postponement or cancellation of industry engagement activities and cancellation of non-essential travel. Its assessment activities will not present an unacceptable risk to workers and staff at mine sites — on the basis that controls are implemented to protect workers such as social distancing and the use of PPE, to mitigate the risk of transmission.
The NSW Resources Regulator states that while it has evidence to demonstrate that many mine operators are taking all reasonable steps to manage the risk posed by COVID-19, the impacts of the virus are still unprecedented. It is for this reason that it still considers that maintaining targeted assessment activities at mine sites to be essential.
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