HSE has launched a consultation on plans to sweep away the entirety of mine safety legislation, replacing it with a single set of regulations focusing on major hazards.
The current framework, consisting of 47 mines-specific legal instruments, including 32 sets of regulations or orders, 13 amending instruments and two acts dating from between 1954 and 2007, will be replaced with what will become known as the Mines Regulations 2014.
A single guidance document will be introduced to support the new regulations, and the 10 ACOPs that currently exist supporting various regulations and activities will be withdrawn.
“The existing legislation is voluminous, complex, highly prescriptive and out of line with modern principles of health and safety regulation,” the consultation document states. “It also places most duties on an individual employee (eg the mine manager) rather than the business that operates the mine.”
Stakeholders are being asked to respond to the eight-week consultation that includes proposals to:
- Change the primary dutyholder from the mine manager to the mine operator. HSE says this will have little impact in practice as the person or corporate entity running a mine is currently legally responsible under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and treated as such by HSE’s mines inspectorate
- Limit or abolish the need for operators to seek exemptions, consents, approvals or to submit notifications to HSE
- Cease the HSE approval of mining qualifications and the need for certain post holders to hold HSE approved qualifications
- Remove the need for coal mines to participate in an approved rescue scheme. All mines would remain under a clear legal duty to ensure that effective rescue provision is available if necessary in the event of underground incidents.
“This is a significant structural change to the legal framework and HSE is working with the industry and workforce representatives to facilitate the transition,” the document states, adding that it “does present the industry with a challenge in moving its culture on safety management from one based on compliance with detailed requirements to a risk-based approach.
“However, there would be no significant increase or reduction in what the mine operator would be required to do to operate a mine safely.”
HSE considered introducing a permissioning regime similar to other major hazard industries, but rejected it as “not practical in the timescale”.
The definition of a mine will stay the same as in the 1954 Mines and Quarries Act, that is: “an excavation or system of excavations… made for the purpose of… getting, wholly or substantially by means involving the employment of persons below ground, of minerals…”
The UK’s mining industry is small, employing around 5,000 people extracting coal and other minerals. There are currently three large coal mines and a handful of smaller mines. The non-coal mines comprise a large potash mine, a large salt mine, five gypsum mines and various smaller mines extracting stone and other materials.
However, the review comes just weeks after UK Coal, which operates the UK’s last remaining deep coal mines, said it would be closing two of the three pits currently open.
The consultation closes on 1 July. Following the consultation, a final draft set of regulations will be prepared for HSE board and ministerial approval, before the legislation is introduced to parliament in December 2014. It is currently anticipated the new regulations will come into force on 6 April 2015, the final common commencement date before the next parliament.
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