Open Cut » Health and Safety
The term 'Voluntary Initiative' (VI) is self-explanatory. An initiative that is undertaken without some form of external mandatory compulsion is voluntary.
Formal VIs have been established in various industries around the world to advance many areas of common interest from environmental concerns through to product design. One type of VI involves companies in an industry banding together to achieve a common goal. ACARP itself is a VI of Australian coal mining companies directing a defined levy toward accomplishing valuable outcomes for the industry.
This report examines the nature of VIs as well as the history, rationale, operating mode and impact of a selected group of industry VIs that address health and safety.
The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO) in the US was established in the early 1980s after a major event at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Station. All nuclear power companies in the US and Canada belong to INPO. In 30 years of operations it has focused on four 'pillars' of activities; site evaluations to agreed standards, member assistance to improve nuclear safety and performance, unwanted event analysis and information, and industry training and accreditation. INPO has contributed to the resurgence of nuclear power in North America including extensions of 'licences to operate' well beyond expectations in the late 20th century. According to INPO they have decreased their significant unwanted events by two magnitudes in 30 years and it is now 'safer to work at a nuclear station than in an office' (Morris, 2005). INPO's improvements in health and safety are one of the outcomes of their broad industry performance focus.
The report also examines the North Sea offshore oil health and safety VI called 'Step Change in Safety' (SCIS). Their Vision is to make the UK the safest place to work in the worldwide oil and gas industry. An office in Aberdeen is resourced with employees and staff seconded, in some cases for more than a year, from member companies. They develop resources, training and opportunities for industry learning, as well as communication with other stakeholders. The performance impact of SCIS is less clear than INPO but the investment is much smaller than INPO and mostly focused on health and safety.
Responsible Care (RC) is the global chemical industry VI with a large component of its approach addressing plant health and safety. RC started in 1985 in Canada as a result of a series of major chemical disasters around the world. RC is now a part of the operations of many national chemical industry associations, including PACIA (Plastic and Chemical Industries Association) in Australia. RC defines a set of expectations for chemical plant operations which are audited to establish compliance and thereby keep membership in the relevant national association. The direct impact of RC is not perfectly clear but the members of RC around the globe have a fatality rate that is almost two magnitudes lower than the Australian mining fatality rate in the last 10 years.
The international Council of Mining and Metals (ICMM) has been a global mining VI since 2002. Twenty two mining companies belong to ICMM. ICMM has a broad sustainable development vision that includes occupational health and safety. The ICMM Strategy is developed by the most senior executives in member companies and work groups, also made up primarily of member company representatives, either undertake or commission projects where required. Entry into ICMM is limited to companies who can demonstrate that they are operating to the principles defined by ICMM. This must also be demonstrated regularly during membership. The impact of ICMM has been to 'value add' to individual company efforts to improve reputation and opportunity for the industry around the globe. Impact on health and safety specifically is not clear. ICMM publishes many helpful documents that member and other companies may use to help define their own approaches. The cost of operating ICMM is much more than SCIS but probably at least a magnitude less than INPO or RC globally.
The report also considered a VI initiated in Australia but now global that focuses on equipment related health and safety. The Earth Moving Equipment Safety Round table (EMESRT) has 10 member companies from most major mining jurisdictions. The EMESRT vision is an industry free of fatalities, injuries and occupational illnesses associated with operating and maintaining exploration and mining equipment, globally. EMESRT strategy and activities are defined by an Advisory Group made up of member company representatives. Resources to support EMESRT come from various parts of the University of Queensland. EMESRT engages with the largest seven Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to try and optimise equipment operability and maintainability. The impact of EMESRT can be seen in many new designs and OEM modifications to major mining equipment.
This report concludes that carefully established and operated VIs can be effective in addressing common industry issues such as health and safety risks in coal mining. It is suggested that there are at least four major coal mining industry health and safety objectives that could be addressed with an effective VI.
- To further reduce H&S risk to achieve Zero Harm - Although improved, Australian mining health and safety performance is still far from the 'Zero Harm'.
- To address the issue identified by Pike River, poor quality risk management leads to disaster - The Pike River disaster investigations indicate that the mine had a risk management approach that, by design, was similar to many Australian coal mines. The issue was the quality of execution which may also be relevant to Australian coal mines.
- To work together to identify cost effective strategies to further reduce risk - There are current and future issues that challenge the industry, especially in the area of developing more effective controls for high risks.
- To systematically influence the regulators' Codes of Practice development and NMSF related changes in general - The national regulators initiative to develop over 30 industry Codes of Practice for mining operations, possibly with only minor industry input, could result in a new set of prescriptive requirements that could compromise effective operational risk management.
The Australian coal industry should explore the potential for an OH&S Voluntary Initiative with possible consideration of other priority areas of sustainability such as the environment and other social performance areas. The investigation should be driven, at least in its early years, by an existing state industry body such as the NSW Minerals Council or the Queensland Resource Council in order to effectively gauge commitment and execute a process based on documented good practice.
Should the VI be established, the process of defining and setting up the VI should be defined by considering the criteria for success outlined in this report, recognising that communication with industry stakeholders such as the regulators and, possibly, labour representatives will be critical to success.