Cooperation between HSE and the Coal Authority
OC 693/7 Version 3
Author unit / section: OPSTD: Manufacturing Sector: Metals & Minerals
Target audience: HID SI1 Mine Inspectors (Band 2 and above), FOD PIs with quarries responsibilities (Band 2), FOD Quarries Inspectors (Band 3 and above)
This OC informs Inspectors of the liaison arrangements between HSE and the Coal Authority, their emergency response to surface hazards from former coal mine workings and their archiving for HSE of coal mine and opencast site abandonment plans. This version includes revised arrangements for communications about opencast sites and adds the agreement arising out of the Hampton Report
1 Both HSE and the Coal Authority (CA) are public bodies with regulatory roles in the coal extraction industry, both deep-mined and opencast. This OC sets out HSE's role in the agreed administrative arrangements aimed at securing constructive cooperation in regulating the coal sector. It also outlines two services the Authority provides which benefit HSE: responding to surface hazards arising from past coal mining and keeping the national archive of abandonment plans of coal mines and opencast sites.
2 It does not cover the situations that can arise at certain leased mines during closure or at abandoned mines during works to treat surface hazards when the Coal Authority may become the mine 'owner' or construction 'client' under health and safety legislation. In such situations, HSE's approach to enforcement should be consistent with that taken with any other responsible duty holder. The Coal Authority is not a crown body.
The Coal Authority
3 The Coal Authority is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. It was set up by the Coal Industry Act 1994 to take over the nation's unworked coal assets and historic liabilities from British Coal. It is statutorily barred from commercially mining or quarrying coal but is required to facilitate the proper exploitation of coal resources through licensing private operators.
4 The Coal Authority's principal activities are:
- licensing coal mining operations and making available rights in relation to unworked coal;
- settling subsidence damage claims not falling on licensed coal mining operators;
- managing property, including historic liabilities, arising from ownership of the coal reserves and underground workings; and
- providing access to geological data and coal-mining plans.
Memoranda of agreement between HSE and the Coal Authority
5 The Coal Industry Act 1994 Section 4 requires the CA to agree with HSE, and abide by, arrangements for securing cooperation and the exchange of information between them. The full text of the resulting Memorandum of Agreement is reproduced at Appendix 1. Briefly, it establishes that health and safety matters are for HSE alone; that licensing and coal ownership matters are for CA alone; but it requires each to pass on information it acquires to the other if this enables them to carry out their functions efficiently and effectively.
6 Paragraph 2(2) of this Memorandum refers to liaison officers who are responsible for ensuring the satisfactory operation of the agreement. They are currently Mr N Hill for HSE and Mr W Denton, Licensing Manager, for the Coal Authority.
7 A further working arrangements agreement was made in the light of the Hampton Report, aimed at avoiding unnecessary burdens on the coal industry from overlaps between CA and HSE inspections. The full text is at Appendix 2.
8 There is a separate Memorandum of Agreement between HSE and the CA covering the keeping of abandonment plans from coal mines and opencast sites, which replaced previous agreements with British Coal. The full text is at Appendix 3.
Working arrangements between HSE and the Coal Authority
9 Routine communications from the CA covered by the formal Agreements, such as details of new licences, relating to individual sites will be sent to the Mines Unit office in Sheffield in the case of mines and to the FOD National Quarries Inspection Team in Cardiff in the case of opencast sites. Both offices should have arrangements in place to forward the information to the appropriate inspector for the geographical area. The CA have also been advised of appropriate contacts in HSE for general issues relating to mines, opencast sites and borehole operations.
10 The Mines Inspector with Coal Authority Liaison responsibilities and the FOD Principal Inspector with responsibilities for Quarries should arrange for any of the following to be sent to the Coal Authority:
- copies of statutory notices from mine owners or quarry operators on the beginning or ending of mining operations, changes of ownership and appointments of mine managers or surveyors;
- outlines of prohibition or improvement notices served which are likely to affect substantially a licensee's ability to produce coal at a mine or opencast site; and
- details of any indication which comes to the notice of an Inspector that a licensee may be working coal outside the area covered by the lease or licence.
11 HSE Inspectors can also contact the Coal Authority directly, keeping in mind the purpose of the cooperation arrangements is to enable both parties to carry out their functions efficiently and effectively. They can at any time request copies of CA inspection reports or details of licensees (and hence primary duty holders). Contact details are at Appendix 4.
12 There is a particular need for close liaison during the abandonment phase at mines, especially if the owner is vulnerable to financial failure and might leave the mine in a condition hazardous to the public.
13 The HSE liaison officer, currently Neville Hill, or Manufacturing Sector lead Quarries Inspector, currently Roy Bush, can advise on these issues.
Surface hazard emergencies from abandoned coal mines
14 The CA is the public body which deals with surface hazards arising from past coal mining activities, such as shaft collapses, gas emissions and spontaneous combustion of coal. The Authority will ensure that the site is made safe as soon as possible, without consideration of responsibility. The CA's 24-hour surface hazards emergency telephone number (01623 646333) is known to emergency services and local authorities in coalfield areas. HSE staff informed of an incident possibly arising from past coal mining should also use it to notify the CA.
15 If the hazard is to a work activity for which HSE is the enforcing authority, the CA should still be informed as they, or their specialist contractor, can provide assistance to HSE inspectors' initial investigations as well as looking after the CA's interests. Inspectors should, however, keep in mind the potential for a conflict of interest if the investigation suggests enforcement action against the CA.
16 Mine and quarry regulations require plans of workings in coal to be deposited with HSE for archiving so they can be accessed by future duty holders to help avoid the hazards of mining into old workings. In the case of the Quarry Regulations, there is provision for such plans to be sent directly to a body approved by the Executive and the CA is the body approved for the purpose. Through the memorandum of agreement with HSE at Appendix 3, the CA holds all the statutory abandonment plans of coal workings on HSE's behalf, and many related non-statutory plans.
17 The HSE liaison officer should be informed of any difficulty with these working arrangements and of any issue affecting the CA's functions which may have significance wider than a single mine or quarry.