Legal and illegal substances take toll on safety of mine workers

Mine Safety, Division of Resources and Energy, NSW Trade & Investment
Monday, 04 June, 2012

Drug screening services have been targeting the mining industry in an effort to keep the synthetic drug Kronic out of the workplace. The synthetic cannabinoid was detected in as many as one in 10 of West Australian miners last year, prompting NSW and Queensland mines to also begin testing workers. The drug is a mix of herbs and chemicals, containing synthetic cannabinoids which mimic the effect of cannabis, giving users feelings of euphoria and relaxation.

Health experts have warned that Kronic use can also result in paranoia, nausea, high blood pressure and hallucinations. Allan Tisdell, who runs a drug screening program, has tested many miners in the Hunter Valley region. “When you look at the symptoms, it’s paramount that companies educate their workforce to minimise the risk of employees using [Kronic] and presenting for work. Allan has been conducting Tool Box Talks for eight months for companies around the country on these issues.” Tisdell said it was a difficult problem because the companies who produce the drugs change the chemical make-up on a regular basis.

The use of the synthetic drug Kronic among NSW miners has prompted specialised drug screening. The Director of Mine Safety Operations, Rob Regan, from NSW Trade & Investment, says the Work Health and Safety legislation imposes a duty on a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of workers and others at work. The Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011 requires that hazards are identified and the resultant risks eliminated or controlled.

The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 has duties for workers and others at the workplace. They must take reasonable care for their own health and safety and take reasonable care that their acts or omissions do not adversely affect the health and safety of others. They must also comply with any reasonable instruction by the PCBU and the worker must cooperate with any reasonable policy or procedure of the PCBU. “Our mining specific legislation requires the operator to provide a health and safety management system that identifies and controls risks to the operation,” Regan said. “A good operator will recognise that alcohol and other drugs (AOD) may present a risk and have policy and procedures, as part of fitness for work, to control these risks. However, those policies and procedures must have been developed through, and with, the consultation of the workforce.”

The Coal Mine Health and Safety Regulation 2006 clause148 specifies the coal operation must have a fitness for work program that includes measures to eliminate or control risks from the consumption of drugs at the coal operation. The Mine Health and Safety Regulation 2007 makes similar provision at clauses 82 and 83 that a person must not take drugs into a mine without the mine operator’s authority.

Kronic is a synthetic cannabinoid product being sold in some states of Australia. Kronic contains a leafy green material adulterated with one or more compounds that convey similar pharmacological properties as Delta9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive constituent of marijuana. Compounds which appear to be highly popular are the ones known as AM2201, JWH250 and AB001. Brands which are currently legal in NSW, including Kronic Black Label and Pineapple Express, have been banned by the WA government. “AOD policy should recognise that both legal and illegal substances may have an impact on the competency of people who work at a mine,” Regan said. “Good procedures establish behaviours of people at the mine so they recognise that they may not be fit for duty and inform their supervisor.

“This happens through education and positive reinforcement. Kronic is just another AOD that mine operators should give information about to their workforce.”

Regan said the second layer of control was to train others, and in particular supervisors, on how to detect that a person may not be fit for duty. AOD may not always be the reason a person may not be fit for duty.

“A further control measure may be AOD testing. This would have been established through workplace consultation. 

“The AOD testing may take many forms, such as pre-employment medical, random and unannounced tests, notified testing for ‘at risk’ groups, requirements for AOD tests post-incident for certain people such as people operating machinery. As to the investigation of an incident by Mine Safety, AOD may be identified as a contributing factor in an incident, Acting Senior Investigator Mark Freeman said.

“Investigators may review the AOD policy and procedures as part of the investigation and review and take copies of any test results that are at the mine. Where a death has occurred, we may receive toxicology and other test results from the Coroner. “Investigators do not have powers to require a person to undergo AOD testing.

“We do have the power to take and remove for analysis a sample of any substance at the workplace. Investigators also have the power to seize anything they consider evidence.”

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