Get talking: mining regulations

Materials World magazine
3 Nov 2014

Mark Godden is Mine and Quarry Manager at Albion Stone, UK. With more than 30 years’ experience in the sector, Mark has developed new underground dimension stone mining techniques and modern open quarrying methods, has been involved in the supply of Portland Stone for Buckingham Palace, and has worked on the refurbishment of Green Park Tube Station.


Well regulated 

It has often been stated that British mining law is written in blood. New regulations are drafted in response to catastrophes. For example, the Mines And Quarries (Tips) Act 1969 was introduced in reaction to the 1966 Aberfan Disaster, when a recklessly positioned colliery spoil heap failed. This collapse resulted in the needless loss of 144 lives, including 116 children.

By this sad iterative process, mining law has aggregated, expanding like a rolling snowball, throughout the last 100 years. The result is a highly complex and often daunting assemblage of more than 1,000 dedicated mining regulations and requirements. These are housed within 48 sets of regulations, prescriptively covering every conceivable mining–related activity, from ‘firedamp frainage’ to ‘sanitary conveniences’.

As part of the current Government’s pledge to cut the burden of red tape to business, the report Reclaiming health and safety for all: An independent review of health and safety legislation by Professor Ragnar Löfsted in 2011 identified mining legislation as an area ripe for improvement.

Following Löfsted’s study and at the request of their political masters, HSE staff have lately been (using only the approved type of safety scissors) heroically slashing at the offending red tape. I only have the vaguest conception of the truly gargantuan scale of the task in question and I am in awe of the achievement. Hundreds of old regulations are now being consolidated into just 76 new ones along with comprehensive guidance on how to comply. The result will be the new and highly streamlined Mines Regulations 2014, which, following wide consultation, should become law in April 2015.

The principle changes involve less prescription and further goal setting. Safe working practices will be founded more upon local risk assessments and less upon one-size-fits-all regulatory decrees.

In my opinion, provided risks are properly assessed, this is a sensible improvement. Duties under the new regulations will be transferred from the mine manager to the mine operator, which I also think is long overdue. For many activities, the need to obtain permissions from, and provide notifications to the HSE will be removed. Coal mines will no longer have to belong to a National Mines Rescue Scheme but will still need to have adequate rescue provision. While mine managers will no longer have to hold statutory qualifications, mine operators will need to be satisfied with their manager’s competency.

Despite massive changes, the new legislation appears to place few new duties on those responsible, and what is good practice now will still be considered good practice under the new regulations. 
My first impressions are that the Mines Regulations 2014 represent a quantum leap forward for all mining stakeholders. Consolidating mining law into a leaner, more adaptable and user-friendly format will make compliance easier and this is indisputably in everyone’s interest.

Mark Godden CEng FIMMM


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