2 Apr 2012

New mine rules would give workers more say in safety

7:45 am on 2 April 2012

The Labour Department is recommending radical changes to the way underground coal mines are regulated and says the changes will give more power to employees.

The department will make the submission on Monday to the Pike River Royal Commission, which is investigating a series of explosions that killed 29 men at the West Coast mine in 2010.

It will recommend a three way approach to health and safety involving the employer, workers and the regulator.

The department is calling the new system the Three Pillars of Support and says it is internationally recognised as the best way to ensure health and safety is maintained in mines.

The system, which is used in Australia, involves a worker acting as an extra set of eyes and representing workers' interests, alongside the employer and the regulator.

Department of Labour head of health and safety Lesley Haines says the changes are a move towards more rules in some areas but not nearly to the same extent as in the past.

She says guidelines for managing critical processes and hazards would be spelled out for employers.

The department is also recommending regular safety audits and stricter controls on ventilation and methane levels.

The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, which represents miners, says the proposed regime does not go far enough.

Assistant national secretary Ged O'Connell told Morning Report the proposal has scant detail about workers' role in the new framework.

He says it is a move in the right direction, but allowing employers to appoint worker health and safety inspectors is ridiculous.