Targeted assessment programs (TAPs)

Overview

Improving rehabilitation performance across the NSW mining industry is a priority for the NSW Resources Regulator. This involves ensuring compliance with the provisions of the Mining Act 1992 and the conditions of mining leases.

A crucial part of our compliance and enforcement strategy involves implementing a scheduled and targeted assessment program for mines. We have developed targeted assessment programs (TAPs) around the identified critical controls. The TAPs comprise inspections across the mine sites in NSW to ensure measures have been identified and implemented to facilitate sustainable rehabilitation outcomes.

The TAPs proactively assesses how effectively a mine controls risks and manages compliance with the preventative and mitigating controls that are critical in planning for and implementing mine site rehabilitation. Each TAP focuses on the implementation of a specific critical control or compliance priority. We implement the following rehabilitation TAPs:

The program involves both documentary and on-site assessment, to draw conclusions and make recommendations for compliance and continual improvement.

Decommissioning

This TAP comprises a targeted assessment of how a mine site is managing the key processes and activities required as part of the decommissioning of built infrastructure including any assessments or designs. The scope of activities that may be involved in the decommissioning process include the following:

  • removal, demolition and or dismantling of buildings and infrastructure
  • structural works associated with making safe those buildings and infrastructure to be retained as part of the final land use
  • heritage assessment and management
  • sealings of mine openings and boreholes and
  • identification and remediation of hazardous areas.

The decommissioning process may occur after the end of mining or progressively over the life of an operation. It is recognised that this information may be conceptual during the initial stages of an operation.

The objectives of this targeted assessment include:

  • ensuring the range of risks and opportunities associated with demolition and decommissioning are identified and appropriate controls are in place to facilitate sustainable rehabilitation outcomes
  • ensuring the effective environmental management, including removal, of any contaminated materials and hazardous items (for example radioactive density gauges) or materials (such as asbestos)
  • ensuring the effective decommissioning, removal and/or augmentation of the mine water management system including any dams prescribed by the Dams Safety Act 2015
  • identifying the potential timing of decommissioning and demolition activities
  • ensuring that obligations under the Heritage Act 1977 are identified and met by the titleholder
  • underground mine workings are rendered safe and sealed to ensure public safety
  • ensuring the substrate following decommissioning is suitable to support the proposed revegetation outcome (e.g. native or agricultural rehabilitation)
  • where buildings and infrastructure are to be retained as part of the post-mining land use, measures are implemented to ensure they are fit for purpose and risks to public safety are minimised
  • ensuring control measures are validated via monitoring, inspections are recorded to enable risks to be appropriately addressed
  • ensuring the mine site has engaged the appropriate skills and experience in relation to decommissioning
  • ensuring decommissioning and rehabilitation is integrated into mine planning systems.

The specific need for mine sites to implement the above controls will be based on the risks, the scope of activities being undertaken at the site and any regulatory requirements or agency approvals required for decommissioning and/or demolishing infrastructure.

Material and soil management

This TAP comprises a targeted assessment of how a mine site is managing materials and soils to achieve sustainable rehabilitation outcomes. This includes how a mine is managing any potential soil or material deficits.

The objectives of this targeted assessment include:

  • ensuring the range of risks associated with materials and soils are identified and appropriate controls are in place to facilitate sustainable rehabilitation outcomes
  • identifying potential constraints/opportunities to maximise the salvage of soil resources for use in rehabilitation
  • ensuring an inventory of soil resources and materials (e.g. inert capping material, etc) has been defined to ensure the needs for rehabilitation of the final land use can be met
  • ensuring the selective handling and management of mine materials (e.g. overburden, tailings, reject materials etc.) to address potential geochemical and geotechnical constraints for rehabilitation
  • ensuring the substrate is suitable to support proposed revegetation outcome (e.g. native or agricultural rehabilitation)
  • ensuring control measures are validated via monitoring, inspections are recorded to enable risks to be appropriately addressed
  • ensuring the mine site has engaged the appropriate skills and experience in relation to materials and soils management
  • ensuring rehabilitation is integrated into mine planning systems
  • ensuring techniques and measures have been developed and implemented to salvage, protect and maintain biological resources (e.g. topsoil, subsoil, seed bank, plant material, logs, hollows etc.) for use in rehabilitation.

The specific need for mine sites to implement the above controls will be based on the risks as well as scope of activities being undertaken at the site. For example, where there are no more areas proposed to be cleared as part of future mining activities, this aspect of the assessment will not be relevant.

Landform establishment

This TAP comprises a targeted assessment of how a mine site is establishing the final approved landform to achieve sustainable rehabilitation outcomes.

The objectives of this targeted assessment include:

  • ensuring the range of risks associated with establishing the approved final landform are identified and appropriate controls are in place to facilitate sustainable rehabilitation outcomes
  • identifying potential constraints and opportunities to achieve the approved final landform, including geotechnical/geochemical issues, incorporation of surrounding landforms (for example macro and micro-relief) and visual amenity
  • ensuring the location, treatment and or rehabilitation of water management infrastructure is integrated into the final landform
  • ensuring design and management measures to construct the final landform over reject emplacement areas and tailings dams will be to a condition/capability that supports the final land use
  • identifying the key design features for final voids, highwalls and low walls and ensuring the design minimises impacts to public safety and reduces the sterilisation of land available for future final land uses
  • ensuring the construction of any creek or river diversion works that will form part of the final landform will be to a condition that is sustainable in the long term
  • ensuring control measures are validated via monitoring, inspections are recorded to enable risks to be appropriately addressed
  • ensuring the mine site has engaged the appropriate skills and experience in relation to landform establishment,
  • ensuring landform establishment and rehabilitation are integrated into mine planning systems,
  • ensuring techniques and measures have been developed and implemented to achieve the final landform.

Revegetation

This TAP comprises a targeted assessment of how a mine site is managing revegetation to achieve sustainable rehabilitation outcomes.

The objectives of this targeted assessment include:

  • ensuring the range of risks associated with growth medium development and revegetation are identified and appropriate controls are in place to facilitate sustainable rehabilitation outcomes
  • identifying potential constraints and opportunities to achieve the approved revegetation outcomes
  • identifying any studies required to achieve the intended revegetation outcome
  • ensuring control measures are validated via monitoring, inspections are recorded to enable risks to be appropriately addressed
  • ensuring the mine site has engaged the appropriate skills and experience in relation to revegetation
  • ensuring revegetation and rehabilitation are integrated into mine planning systems
  • ensuring techniques and measures have been developed and implemented to achieve the intended revegetation outcome (e.g. native ecosystem and or agricultural land use).

Surface and groundwater management

This TAP comprises a targeted assessment of how a mine site is managing surface and groundwater to achieve sustainable rehabilitation outcomes.

The objectives of this targeted assessment include:

  • ensuring the range of risks associated with surface and groundwater management and ongoing monitoring are identified and appropriate controls are in place to facilitate sustainable rehabilitation outcomes
  • identifying any studies required for the detailed design of creek construction/river diversion works, including geomorphological and hydraulic modelling and aquatic ecological assessments
  • identifying any studies required for the detailed design of final landforms, including geomorphological and hydraulic modelling
  • ensuring the implementation of any specific measures required for the future management of groundwater accumulation in the underground workings (which may include measures to be implemented to minimise environmental impacts associated with potential future discharges from the underground workings)
  • ensuring required studies are undertaken including (but not limited to):
    • final void water balance including groundwater modelling to determine the likely final void water level
    • water quality assessments including geochemical studies required to inform management of potential pollution impacts
    • geotechnical studies required to determine what stabilisation and public safety measures will need to be incorporated into the final design
  • ensuring future water licensing requirements for water retained within the final void(s) following mine closure are addressed
  • ensuring control measures are validated via monitoring, inspections or recorded to enable risks to be appropriately addressed
  • ensuring the mine site has engaged the appropriate skills and experience in relation to surface and groundwater management
  • ensuring surface and groundwater management are integrated into mine planning systems
  • ensuring techniques and measures have been developed and implemented to achieve the final land use.

Tailings storage facilities management

The Tailings Compliance Priority Project in 2018 identified uncertainties and knowledge gaps in relation to the management of tailings storage facilities. We drew on the insights gained from this project and other assessments to develop a program to ensure industry has a clear understanding of obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, the Work Health & Safety (Mines & Petroleum) Act 2013 and the Mining Act 1992.

A planned inspection program was undertaken in 2019 and 2020 to assess how mine operators were identifying and managing risks associated with hazards that affect worker safety (WHS Act considerations) and the environment (Mining Act considerations). Further details regarding this program can be accessed here.

Assessment arrangements

TAPs are managed in three stages:

Stage 1: pre-arrival arrangements, review and information exchange

A week or two before our arrival, participant sites will receive notification of the forthcoming TAP. This may include a request for specified management plans (such as the rehabilitation management plan), records, monitoring data and other relevant supporting documentation (such as site-specific rehabilitation risk assessments). The mine will also be notified of:

  • assessment visit schedules
  • assessment team composition
  • focus areas for the assessment (eg a specific critical control or compliance priority)
  • resources required by the assessment team, including the necessary site personnel (eg technical experts) that will be required to be interviewed and participate in the site inspection
  • tools to be used in the assessment

Stage 2: on-site assessment

This site visit will be looking for a demonstration that:

  • the range of risks to rehabilitation that have been identified
  • the mine site has implemented appropriate systems, procedures and controls to facilitate sustainable rehabilitation outcomes
  • systems, procedures and controls are functional in practice and effective at controlling the risks
  • the workforce is competent and confident about the risk controls relevant to their area and level of responsibility
  • based on monitoring, the effectiveness of controls are evaluated and the risks are reviewed to facilitate continual improvement

Stage 3: Findings, recommendations, follow-up

The assessment team will conclude whether, and to what extent, the mine site has demonstrated:

  • compliance with legislative requirements
  • how relevant components of the rehabilitation management system comply with the minimum legislative requirements
  • how well the rehabilitation management and monitoring plans are being implemented
  • satisfactory performance in achieving sustainable rehabilitation outcomes on the ground.

The assessment team will debrief site management on their preliminary findings at the completion of the site assessment. An assessment finding letter and/or a notice under section 240 of the Mining Act 1992 may also be issued to the mine following completion of the site assessment.

A report providing an overview of the findings and recommendations of each of the completed TAPs will be prepared and published on our website as a learning resource.

A follow-up site inspection may also be conducted to:

  • verify the progress made by the mine on actioning the recommendations outlined at the initial debriefing
  • verify progress made on addressing any matters outlined in any assessment finding letter
  • verify compliance with any directions outlined in a section 240 notice.

What you should do

Review your strategy and capacity to control risks and managing compliance with the preventative and mitigating controls that are critical in planning for and implementing mine site rehabilitation. Sites should ensure measures have been identified and implemented to facilitate sustainable rehabilitation outcomes and that practices are in line with:

  • requirements under the Mining Act 1992
  • conditions of the mining lease(s)
  • carrying out rehabilitation progressively, that is, as soon as reasonably practicable following disturbance
  • commitments outlined in the rehabilitation management plan/mining operations plan
  • achieving the approved rehabilitation objectives, rehabilitation completion criteria, final landform and final landuse(s)
  • available guidance material.