The Mines Regulations 2014 (the ‘Regulations’) came into force on Monday, 6 April 2015 and introduce a comprehensive new safety framework for mining. With commentary from both legal and mining experts, this article discusses the implications of the new regulations.
The Mines Regulations 2014 (‘the Regulations’) came into force on Monday, 6 April 2015. They replace a large volume of all previous health and safety legislation relating to mines and mining activities.
The main aim of the Regulations is to provide a modern, comprehensive, simplified and goal-setting (i.e. less prescriptive) legal framework, which ensures that mine operators provide the necessary protection for mineworkers and others from the hazards of mining.
Dutyholders and management structure
Underpinning the new regulations is the change of principal dutyholder from mine manager to mine operator, i.e. the person who is in control of or proposes control of the mine operation. HSE has published guidance on the Regulations to offer advice, primarily to mine operators, but also to others in the management structure including employer and employee safety representatives, to assist them in fulfilling their legal duties under the Regulations.
Safety representatives now have the power to make a written report to the mine operator and provide a copy of the report to the HSE about any underground activity which they consider presents an imminent risk of serious injury. This goes beyond the right which was previously conferred to safety representatives to conduct inspections of the workplace.
Certification and competence
With regards to coal mines, although there is no longer the requirement for post-holders in such mines to have a certificate of attestation or for HSE to approve qualifications, competence however remains a clear requirement. Under the Regulations, the mine operator must ensure that workers are competent and supervised by a competent person before any work can be undertaken at the mine. There is also no longer a requirement for coal mines to participate in a State-approved mines rescue scheme, although all mine operators are still required to maintain a suitable rescue provision.
Below ground in coal mines, The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (as amended) (‘COSHH’) now applies in full, which includes the application of regulations regarding inhalable dust (with the exception of the workplace exposure limit for respirable crystalline silica, which does not apply below ground in coal mines). COSHH now imposes another duty on mine operators to ensure that procedures are followed to assess the risk to workers’ health from exposure to inhalable dust.
Consequences of a breach
Any breach of the Regulations could result in an unlimited fine, or even 12 months’ imprisonment in the case of individuals who have been found to have breached, or been complicit in a management position of allowing breaches of, the Regulations. With the potential implementation of the forthcoming new Sentencing Council Guidelines, which propose a link between fines and company turnover, the cost of any breach of the Regulations could significantly impact a small and high-risk but important industry in the UK. Key dutyholders under the new regulations are therefore advised to review the training, systems and practices that they have in place, as well as carefully reviewing geological reports and geotechnical assessments which could easily highlight any hazards for workers to avoid.
Dr Aoife Brady, Principal Geologist & Mineralogist, Mkango Resources Ltd, provides her view of the new Regulations
Establishing appropriate health and safety monitoring and management systems is an essential part of all stages of the life cycle of a mining project from early exploration to closure. The consolidation of mining regulations into a single, clear and coherent framework further establishes an effective health and safely regime to prevent and mitigate against the potential hazardous consequences of mining.
The handover of principal dutyholder from mine manager to mine operator, as Emma highlighted above, is a key and practical modification as a mine operator’s duties are more heavily involved in the daily operations of a mine than those of a mine manager, consequently they will have first-hand knowledge of potential risks in the work place. However, it is imperative that during this transfer of duty the implications of the increase in the responsibility of their role are communicated clearly to all mine operators. They must be aware of their role of leadership in setting clear health and safety expectations and standards. It is expected under the new regulations that all current and potential mine operators will receive refresher and additional safety and health training.
The increased emphasis within the new regulations on competency requirements for all people working in a mine is critical in order to develop and maintain a safety culture as mining environments are especially challenging because they can degrade fairly rapidly and they change as mining progresses. All mine employees must be aware of how to perform their jobs safely, and they must learn to recognise and control hazards in their work. It is expected under the new regulations that to ensure adequate levels of competency there will be a renewed emphasis and expansion of training and education, involving topics such as health and safety inspection procedures, accident prevention, industrial hygiene, and mine emergency procedures etc.
DWF has a team of mining experts specialising in matters including health and safety and leases for mines. To find out more, please do not hesitate to contact DWF’s Regulatory team and Real Estate team.