Managing a quarry site under current legislative requirements

By on March 31, 2017

Ron Kerr, Honorary CEO of CMPA and Managing Director of Conundrum Holdings Pty Ltd.

I am going to present a series of articles that I hope are of interest and are reflective of those managing, owning and operating businesses within the extractive industry sector. My objective is to challenge what we are currently doing, hopefully leading all industry stakeholders to engage in a re-think. This first article focuses on the legislative requirements of managing a quarry site.

Over the last 10 years, as an employer, father and friend of people who work in our industry, I will not accept the fact that the safety performance of our industry is deteriorating whilst we continue to work under the same management regime and regulatory strategies.

In opening this discussion, we need to agree upon what is seen as ‘reasonable’ and ‘practicable’ with respect to the duties, responsibilities and obligations pertaining to a quarry management system. In other words, what is practicable and what is actually achievable, whilst ensuring no person is exposed to unreasonable risk and that the site is compliant with its regulatory obligations on a daily basis.

My personal belief is that to be safe and efficient, the majority of a Quarry Manager’s time must be spent directing and overseeing that tasks are completed, whilst complying to company standards, ensuring they are undertaken with minimal risk and that they are evidenced with a document trail.

The Victorian Extractive Industry Act 1966, directed a process of Quarry Manager’s certification culminating with their presentation to a board consisting of respected industry leaders and regulators. This process was a means of assessing potential managers to ensure their ability, competency, experience and qualifications. Although this ceased in December 2005, this system was respected and regarded as best practice by the extractive industries throughout Australia.

In January 2008, the administration of the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 2004 and the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 was moved from the Department of Primary Industries and to WorkSafe.

Since then, the requirements of a Quarry Manager under the earth resources legislation (currently the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (MRSDA)) have been significantly watered down. The MRSDA still required managers to be appointed (but not necessarily in writing) and does not require them to be competent. The Victorian OHS Act 2004 states that employers must provide employees with the necessary training and supervision to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risk (section 21.2.e).  This implies that Quarry Managers must be competent but it does not ‘state’ this. Consequently, we are left with an unclear understanding of the lawful roles or responsibilities of a Quarry Manager.

Conundrum Holdings Pty Ltd has set up our business structure so that the Quarry Manager leads a management team to assist us in meeting our ‘duty of care’ responsibilities under the OHS Act 2004. Within the management team there are persons with specific skills relating to site activities for assisting the Quarry Manager with their daily duties.

Management and workers within sites must be provided with the appropriate training, company support and remuneration commensurate to the obligations being expected of them by their employer, the community and the regulator in this day and age.

As a director, I believe that establishing and maintaining an effective management system and the continuous engagement of workers are integral parts of a company’s responsibility and are at the core of providing a safe quarry site. If a company does not have an appropriate management system, it is not able to proactively prevent incidents or non-compliances. At the same time we must recognise there needs to be a balance between measuring compliance and performance, and supporting preventative action.

Each site must be fully aware of the number of hours required to undertake, review and report (i.e. effectively manage) each of the site’s activities thus maintaining high levels of housekeeping and workforce engagement. This will ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that the company’s risks are identified and regulatory obligations are being met.

Site Photo: Historical v Modern processing plants

Site Photo: Historical v Modern processing plants

 

 

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A range of these site activities are listed below but is not exhaustive:

Overarching Management Duties

  • Communicating with employees and contractors on site throughout the day
  • Filling in daily reporting requirements
  • Creating and maintaining risk management plans
  • Creating and maintaining audit systems
  • Creating and maintaining employee job folios
  • Attending meetings including internal, external, training related and other
  • Meeting and participating with regulators

Liaising with the Community

  • Proximity of local community and its future encroachment needs as land infills are required
  • The overarching management plans underpinning the Work Plan required to meet community expectations (e.g. traffic, blasting, environmental and rehabilitation, dust, noise management plans etc.)
  • The number of contacts made by the community and the regulator
  • Proximity to sensitive receptors

Managing the Workforce

  • The culture, age, experience and wellbeing of the workforce
  • The expectation of the workforce in regards to work/family balance in an age where both parents generally work and children are in child care, therefore a sharing of family duties not previously experienced and not previously impacting the workplace
  • The availability and competence/qualification of specialist contractors being used on the site
  • The ongoing observation of contractors work practices
  • The technically capability and stability of the management team and workforce
  • Off site support of managers by the owner, where applicable

Managing the Resource

  • The depth of overburden being excavated and transferred to stockpile, including management of top soils
  • Ongoing rehabilitation and maintenance of previously rehabilitated areas
  • The size and location (distance from service providers) of the operation
  • The geology of the site
  • Resource workability including abrasiveness, hardness, quality variable, dip, strike and depth
  • Water management

Managing Processing Plant

  • Consistency of the resource and the ease of maintaining production gradings
  • The tonnes per hour being produced, including re-screening, blending and double-handling of processed materials
  • The range of products being processed and number of customers being supported
  • Correct selection of capital plant and equipment used for winning, hauling, processing and dispatching product
  • The age of the processing plant and mobile equipment being used
  • Plant upgrade and/or decommissioning activity

Managing Transport Fleet

  • Size and age of transport fleet
  • The number of truck movements entering and leaving the site on a peak day
  • Tyranny of distance from civilisation and market
  • Compliance with mass management obligations for all heavy vehicles leaving the site
  • Compliance with fatigue and driver diary obligations

If a quarry site has a management system in place commensurate with the site’s activities and it is supported by its owners, we will by default, reduce the risk of serious incidents from occurring on site. This is opposed to the existing regulatory position that improvement can only be achieved by continued expansion and revision of the regulations. One current example of this is the proposed siloing of all management systems pertaining to Victorian Work Authority applications or variations into a government web-based platform known as RRAMs.

The regulatory obligations being placed upon our businesses, site management and workers are expanding exponentially and there is no sign of them plateauing.

The existing document based ‘cover all’ regulatory approach promoted by our regulators and supported by many owners/employers is weighted towards the provision of evidence for future reference.

Does this approach allow a Quarry Manager to get out and engage with the workers, assess the risk involved and control those risks?  Does this approach contain a Quarry Manager to their office, ensuring documents and records are current and valid, even when they know more time has been spent on recording the activity than planning the activity?

The introduction of regulatory changes being brought forward need to be evidenced via detailed cost analysis/modelling and transparently tested prior to their introduction. Furthermore once implemented, review of their practical use and effectiveness and actual cost impact against the original proposal must take place. If a regulatory change is found to be ineffective, it would be necessary to remove or rewrite it.

In conclusion, I would like to stress that we all aspire to the same outcome: an efficient, economical and safe workplace that continually improves. None of us are perfect, we all make unintentional mistakes – the human factor. The culture of blame and cover clearly needs to change.

Please feel free to contact me should you have comments in relation to this article. I would also like to  acknowledge that a number of colleagues assisted  in reviewing this article.

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