Mines sector strategy 2012-15
- Traditional mining activities and emerging subsectors, including:
- Coal mining
- Mineral mining
- Tourist mines
- Storage mines
- Employs fewer than 6000 people, the majority of whom are male
- Decline over the past 25 years - now a small sector with fewer links to other industries
- Most remaining mines are SMEs - only five operators employ more than 500 people
- Spread across the UK, with the remaining large coal mines located in Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Warwickshire and South Wales
The sector retains a degree of strategic value for the UK. Coal mines produce 15% of the coal burned in UK power stations, while the mining of rock salt plays an important role in keeping domestic transport networks open in the winter months. A major accident resulting in loss of production in this sector would affect energy generators, steel producers and other such industries that are dependent on domestically produced coal.
The sector is no longer large enough to support a specialist supply chain, or to offer attractive graduate careers. This has implications for the levels of health and safety competence within the industry, as well as for equipment availability and standards.
- Highly unionised workforce - the majority of employees belong to the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Union of Democratic Mineworkers (UDM), UNITE or GMB
- Most coal mining operations belong to the CoalPro trade association, while those in other mining subsectors belong to the Mining Association of the UK (MAUK)
CoalPro, MAUK, major mining employers, trades unions and HSE are members of the industry-led Mining Industry Safety Leadership Group, established in 2011 as a successor to the Mining Industry Committee. The Safety Leadership Group's principal purpose is to drive and monitor delivery of the health and safety strategy for the sector in which everyone is expected to play their part.
Safety and health issues
- Multiple major hazards with the potential for catastrophic mining accidents
- Ageing infrastructure
- Risk of occupational respiratory diseases due to exposure to a range of hazardous dusts, gases and other substances
- Despite the small size of the workforce, there were 10 fatalities between 2006 and 2009 (8 of them in large coal mines)
- The number of major injuries remains relatively low
Mines have significant work-related safety issues. Major hazards predominate with the main risks arising from fire, explosion, rock falls and transport underground. Risks are usually confined to site with little potential for off-site effects.
Most recent fatal and major injury accidents can be traced back to insufficient implementation of safety management systems and a lack of effective safety leadership. The contraction of the industry has resulted in the loss of corporate memory relating to major hazards and risk control, as many experienced leaders have left the sector.
Competency development at all levels is a major issue, as there remain very few higher educational institutes providing mining-related training. The sector is trying to address this issue by working with accreditation bodies to develop a range of NVQs and other training opportunities. Improving health and safety leadership, developing and reinforcing competencies are therefore key objectives.
Issues around infrastructure include:
- Ageing infrastructure (such as winding systems)
- Need for well-defined escape and emergency procedures
- Mines change constantly as minerals are extracted, affecting the nature and scale of related hazards at any given time
- The increasing incidence of mine fires from high-powered machinery operating over ever-longer distances
Occupational health risks remain an important issue for workers:
- Heat exhaustion is the most common short-term health issue
- Respiratory diseases occur due to exposure to a range of hazardous dusts, gases and other substances
- Adequate control of exposure to coal dust and respirable crystalline silica remains a priority
- Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are generally well understood and managed. Engineering controls and modern working practices have largely eliminated osteoarthritis and whole-body vibration
Statutory provisions require mines to observe, measure and record a lot of health and safety-related information. However, the sector is generally poor at analysing this data and few mines have a well resourced near-miss reporting system.
Safety representative inspections are generally well resourced, but tend to focus on the working environment rather than unsafe processes or safety management issues. As the safety inspection system is relatively detached from other health and safety management processes, the sector does less well in addressing any issues that are raised. More effective joint-working between management and employees may help to address this.
Legislation and regulation
Industry regulation and structures were established to deal with a large, unionised sector and adjusting to a much smaller industry size is a continuous issue. There is a large body of mining-specific legislation, some of which dates from the 1950s.
The older legislation is generally prescriptive and still requires mining owners to notify HSE, seek consent, approval or direction to permit certain activities, or seek exemptions where safer modern working practices have overtaken regulatory constraints.
The whole body of mining-specific health and safety legislation is currently under review. The outcome is likely to be a single set of regulations focused principally on the management of major mining hazards, major health issues and tips. The current timetable envisages that these will come into force in October 2014.
Strategic regulatory and sector approach
HSE is the principal regulator for health and safety issues in the mining industry, which includes the approval of mining explosives for use in potentially flammable atmospheres.
The Environment Agency regulates related issues, such as waste disposal, while The Coal Authority licenses coal mining activities as well as the use of working or dormant coal mines for other purposes, eg storage.
Mining sector technology and techniques are generally well established and significant innovations within the next 5 years are unlikely.
Deep mined coal production is likely to remain substantially unchanged. There may be a resurgence in metal mining activities in south-west England if world raw materials prices remain at their current levels or increase further. Potash and polyhalite production could double in 5–10 years if proposals for a major new deep mining operation in North Yorkshire come to fruition.
The number of mines used for storage and tourism is increasing slowly:
- There are around 40 tourist mines now in operation, visited by an estimated 1 million people every year. The main risks arise from transport through vertical shafts and mass transport below ground on cableways and trains
- Use of both dormant and working mines for storage is creating new sets of risks, particularly the risk of fire from flammable materials, which must be well managed
Aims for 2012–15
Sector leaders recognise the value of health and safety leadership and effective leadership is demonstrated at all levels of management and supervision.
Involving the workforce
Mine operators will work effectively with their staff to tackle major hazard and other health and safety issues within their organisations.
Mine operators understand fully the range of major hazards at their mines and have in place procedures to ensure the risks from these hazards are properly controlled.
Mine operators have in place suitable arrangements for measuring and benchmarking their safety performance.
The sector has in place an appropriate regulatory framework.
Employees at all levels are developed to appropriate levels of competence with respect to the tasks they undertake and their responsibilities for health and safety risk control within the sector.
Creating healthier, safer workplaces
The mining sector will effectively manage key health issues.
Taking a wider perspective
The sector engages with the wider health and safety community.
Statutory functions and advice and support to OGDs and Europe.