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Pike River mine – regulatory exemption granted by WorkSafe

WorkSafe has accepted a Pike River Recovery Agency (PRRA) regulatory exemption request which clears the way for the agency to begin work to recover the mine drift.

Regulation 170 (4) (a) of the Mining Operations and Quarrying Regulations 2016 requires that there must always be an ability for workers to escape from a mine in an intake airway. At Pike River mine that would be created by a process known as ‘exhausting ventilation’ where fresh air is drawn into the mine up the roadway and later sucked out of the mine through a duct by a fan.

PRRA sought an exemption to use a process called ‘forced ventilation’ in which fresh air is forced by a fan to the working space through a duct and then the air flows back (called return air) through the roadway to the entrance of the mine

WorkSafe is empowered to grant exemptions under S 220 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 and currently has previously granted over 50 separate (non Pike-related) exemptions.

“WorkSafe undertook a detailed review of PRRA’s exemption request and determined that worker health and safety outcomes were at least equivalent to the outcome of adhering to the regulation itself,” WorkSafe General Manager Regulatory Effectiveness and Legal Mike Hargreaves said.

“WorkSafe was satisfied that the PRRA request met all legislative requirements for the granting of an exemption.”

The exemption will take effect from 5 December 2019 which is the date it will be formally gazetted.

“This exemption does not change the requirement in the Health and Safety at Work Act on PRRA to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, a healthy and safe work environment,” Mr Hargreaves said.

The exemption has two conditions. It applies only to re-entry and recovery of the drift up to the phenolic plug installed recently by PRRA at the end of the 2.3 kilometre drift and which must remain in place and effective throughout the recovery work. The second condition requires that if there is any change that could have any effect on the health and safety of workers, PRRA’s critical controls will be implemented and an action response plan will be triggered and WorkSafe will be advised.

“WorkSafe will monitor drift recovery activity at the mine to ensure PRRA implement all the controls they have indicated are necessary for safe working,” Mr Hargreaves said.

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