Working together for a safer industry

Publish date: 5 November 2015

This month will mark the fifth anniversary of the Pike River mining tragedy. The tragedy changed the mining health and safety landscape in New Zealand forever. 29 men lost their lives and it can’t be allowed to happen again.

Picture of an arm in a high-visibility jacket holding a hard hat.

The tragedy changed the mining health and safety landscape in New Zealand forever. 29 men lost their lives and it can't be allowed to happen again.

The lessons from that disaster have driven a new vision for health and safety in New Zealand’s mining industry. This includes clear, consistent and effective legislation and open lines of communication between industry and government regulators. These changes are about ensuring regulators’ roles and expectations are well defined and joined-up; and that safety is central to regulators, companies and individuals.

Adhering to high health and safety standards, not only gives regulators confidence in ongoing compliance, it also improves productivity and performance for mining firms, and benefits the reputation of the industry as a whole.

For NZP&M, it is clear that our role is not just about ensuring the efficient exploration and extraction of our mineral resources, but that this must be done safely and to the standard of good industry practice.

The Pike River Royal Commission called for health and safety to become an integral part of our management of mineral resources. Following its report, we improved information sharing with WorkSafe NZ and over the last five years have built a stronger relationship with its specialist High Hazard Unit (HHU).

The HHU undertake a high-level assessment of any petroleum and high risk/high value minerals permit (Tier 1) applicant’s ability to meet health and safety requirements as part of our permitting process. This is not about imposing unnecessary requirements but ensuring from the start that we have the best operators in New Zealand – operators who have the right systems in place.

We are also bringing other regulators – including WorkSafe – into Annual Review Meetings with operators. These have led to well informed, joint discussions and have been a positive experience. They allow each regulator to get a holistic view of an operation, identify risk, and see where our various responsibilities intersect. For operators, it is a chance to get their perspective across and talk through issues with the various regulators at one time.

This year my staff have been making site visits with HHU’s Chief Mines Inspector Tony Forster and his team. It has given us important insight into how the High Hazards Unit operates, their expectations of operators, and ensures a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities of regulators and industry. Another key driver for these site visits is to build understanding among my staff of the commercial realities and issues companies are facing day-to-day. The feedback I’ve received is that these visits have been very useful for operators, giving them the chance to ask questions, get advice, and for us all to discuss issues collectively.

Mine safety is also about having timely access to information to promote robust decision making. An initiative NZP&M and WorkSafe are partnering on is building a digital catalogue of mine plans.

With around 150 years of mining in New Zealand, many of these plans are in collections scattered across the country. The catalogue will identify the locations of plans so operators have the ability to find them easily. In the case of historical plans overlapping with new or planned operations, we are scanning high resolution versions that will be available online.

The project will also develop new standards and an online tool for loading current mine plans.

Having easy access to historic and current mine information is important for a number of reasons – from helping understand the economic value of a mineral resource to identifying the potential risks of new operations overlapping old mine workings. Easy access to maps is also crucial for Mines Rescue in case of an emergency response.

To provide clarity around NZP&M’s expectations, we have recently released guidelines for minerals permit holders and new applicants which explain our legislative framework. Two of these - on Health and Safety and Good Industry Practice - directly relate to health and safety.

The stronger link between NZP&M and WorkSafe is part of working towards a seamless approach to health and safety across industry. We are making sure information is readily available and we want to see good practice shared.

Working together with the knowledge and experience of industry we can make sure the mining sector is a safe and productive one.

View the Minerals guidelines


James Stevenson-Wallace
General Manager
New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals

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