27th April 2020

This update outlines the Resources Regulator's approach to conducting inspections at mine sites during the COVID-19 outbreak.

We understand that mine operators have serious concerns about the spread of COVID-19, and we share those concerns – we must balance the importance of performing our regulatory function against the infection risk to our staff, their families, mineworkers and the reputational risk associated with the potential for our staff being responsible for transmitting the virus.

Several mine operators have voluntarily provided information that demonstrates a serious effort to manage the risk. However, in the face of the unprecedented pressure mine operators and workers are under from the threat posed by this virus, not to mention rapidly and significantly changing work patterns and processes as operators respond, we remain considerably concerned that this creates an environment where there is a significant and increased risk of mistakes being made. The fact that some mine operators have reported being stretched and under considerable pressure underpins these concerns.

While we have reduced the number of site assessments as a risk control measure, we will continue to send inspectors to mine sites and their assessment activities will be focussed on the physical implementation of controls to manage the risk to workers arising from the impacts of COVID-19. Not just the health risks, also the broader safety risks. This is a priority to us and we consider it essential. Our normal planned assessment programs have been suspended, however we will also continue to respond to incidents within the constraints imposed by our risk controls.

We have completed a risk assessment on attending mine sites and implemented controls that are at least as stringent as those in place in industry. This includes:

  • inspectors attending sites alone (where appropriate)
  • inspectors have allocated vehicles which are not shared with other staff
  • inspectors have been provided with necessary PPE
  • inspectors are not undertaking assessments outside of their regional locations
  • an inspector will not enter a mine site if they exhibit a temperature or is otherwise symptomatic when subject to a health assessment on arrival
  • inspectors undertake a self-assessment daily and have been directed not to leave home if they display any cold or flu symptoms, or a temperature
  • inspectors will comply with all reasonable directions intended to minimise transmission risk at a mine site.

More broadly we have implemented a range of other controls to reduce the likelihood of exposure, including remote working, extensive use of video-conferencing, postponement or cancellation of industry engagement activities, and cancellation of non-essential travel.

We have a level of confidence that our assessment activities will not present an unacceptable risk to workers and staff at mine sites – on the basis that controls implemented to protect workers such as social distancing and the use of PPE apply equally to our staff, combined with controls we ourselves have implemented to mitigate the risk of transmission.

While we have evidence to demonstrate that many mine operators are taking all reasonable steps to manage the risk posed by COVID-19, the impacts of the virus are unprecedented. It is unarguable that fear and uncertainty alter human behaviour, which in turn can have a significant adverse impact on tolerance to risk. It is for this reason we consider that maintaining targeted assessment activities at mine sites to be essential.

Please contact us if you have questions or concerns regarding our mine safety assessment and inspection activities.