We recently attended the Health, Safety, Environment and Community Conference convened by the NSW Minerals Council. The Conference drew together participants from across the mining industry in NSW to look at what miners are facing and how they are dealing with the challenges.

What are the current challenges?

Mining is going through a testing time. Indeed, Dr Adam Fraser suggested that the mining industry was in the midst of a 'perfect storm' – with the industry facing change on almost every front. The conference discussed challenges, including:

  • the moderation in prices across commodities
  • safely implementing rapidly developing new technologies
  • 'mixed messages' about production vs safety
  • external threats to safety – the increasing prevalence of unlawful access to mine sites by third parties (such as protest groups)
  • mental health challenges (including the impact of bullying in the workplace) and increasing obesity
  • rapid changes in environmental and planning regulations
  • increased community interest in mining, including the need to build coexistence solutions and managing the aggregation of interest groups, and
  • responding to an aggressive anti-mining lobby (which often uses social media to disseminate its messages).

How do we deal with them?

Dealing with these challenges isn't easy. However, it became clear that participants need to carefully build and sustain positive relationships with their key stakeholders – both within and outside the business. Bringing credibility to these dealings can only be done after you've worked hard to build trust and rapport.

This involves putting in place strategies to manage the challenges that arise including learning from the approach that other industries take. For example, it was suggested that there could be learnings from the aviation industry's use of well-known incident and accident reporting – while balancing the potential legal proceedings that may arise from an incident and having protections in place for those that are involved in an incident investigation.

The rise of critical controls

From a safety perspective, one of the most interesting developments is around 'critical controls', particularly when considering the definition of a 'control' as provided by the ICMM Health and Safety Critical Control Management Good Practice Guide and the need for the control to be specific, measurable and auditable. Distinguishing between 'critical controls' and 'normal controls', as well as 'prevention controls' and 'mitigation controls' in practical application will require thinking about which controls directly impact the risk. This is likely to require further consideration to accommodate the changing nature of a critical control over time.

In dealing with these challenges it was also emphasised that it is important to take care of your own health, as well as that of others. Dr Feelgood (Dr Sally Cockburn) reminded us that we should each be one of the 'spinning plates' we are keeping in the air as we meet the challenges of doing more, with less.

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