Comment Health & Safety

And after all – we are only ordinary men

By Wayne Scott, CEO, Mining Extractives Health and Safety Council 

I PLAY THE SAXOPHONE in my spare time.

You may know one of the classic sax tracks is from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. It’s called ‘Us and Them’. The lyrics are as good as the music, describing ordinary men sent into battle. ‘God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do.’

Too often in life we get into the ‘Us and Them’ game. Battle lines are drawn. ‘It’s not us.’ My experiences working in quarries and mines over a lifetime show we are all in this together.

That’s certainly where I see the real issues in health and safety. The new Health and Safety at Work Act underscores this; everyone shares responsibility. Worker to director.

I’m only a few weeks into my role as CEO of MinEx, but the key message I want to get across is we all have skin in this game. Sometimes our own skin.

So one of the first things I’ve got underway is a mentoring initiative. If we want there to be a quarrying industry into the future, we need to do so much better than seeing more than half of oral B grade CoCs failing their exams.

In early August, Keri Harrison, health & safety manager at Southern Screenworks, offered to help a couple of guys from another Canterbury quarry to get across the line. She’s already done this successfully at her own site. No ‘us and them’ here. Keri was then followed by Dunedin’s Gavin Hartley, and I’m confident these will be the first of many mentors. If you can help – or want help – email or text me (my contacts below.)

The other thing I’m focused on is helping drive the necessary changes to the CoC regime and the associated unit standards.

To their credit, WorkSafe and MITO are open about what they are proposing and working in tandem. I attended five of the seven regional forums. As outlined, the Site Specific CoC will exclude most people, with suggested restrictions that it only applies to sites producing less than 1000 tonnes a week; it also totally eliminates alluvial gold mines.

I’m putting in a MinEx submission framed around an alternative risk-based approach. Hopefully this will be taken onboard along with the necessary work to align unit standards with the necessary training requirements.

When it comes to assessing risks I am pleased to see a rethink underway from looking at every risk to a focus on serious harm and death injuries.

At the recent QuarryNZ conference I asked the room how many had had an emergency at their site; a third of delegates put their hands up. Four or five of them put up their hands again when asked if they were well prepared.

Attending my first fatality as a manager in Sydney I found 40 out of 50 staff running around in shock after a 19-year-old worker had been electrified on a catwalk. You need an Emergency Response Plan. It can be something as simple as a wall chart, laminated and on the smoko wall for everyone to see.

One thing you should do as a quarry or mine manager is invite your local fire brigade, police and ambulance services to visit your site; much better they know the lay-out and access at a quiet time than in an emergency.

Also at the QuarryNZ conference I provided an update on the Health and Safety template that MinEx has brought together for small quarries; it includes a basic Emergency Response Plan. I’m still asking for feedback on the template as we get it finalised into the most useful document it can be to assist smaller site operators.

Finally, there was plenty of talk at the QuarryNZ conference about the proposal for a new peak body for the extractives sector.

I’m supporting the change. My 30 years of experience in Australia (I still backed the ABs) included time in the government sector. That taught me that the extractives sector is competing for attention from politicians, officials and the public; there’s no end of well-resourced industries promoting their issues to government and anyone else who will listen.

Quarries and mines are two parts of the same whole; we earn our living from what we extract and while we often point to the differences, the rest of society sees us as two sides of the same moon. If we want to emerge from the dark side, there has to be an end to Us and Them.

  • Wayne Scott can be contacted, when he’s not playing sax, at wayne@minex.org.nz, 021 944 336.
This article first appeared in Contractor October 2017.

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