Road safety on mine sites – who is responsible?

Mine site motor vehicle safety is an industry-wide issue. What happens when a motor vehicle accident occurs within the boundaries of a mine site or on a mine site access road? Who has responsibility and what are the implications for the principal employer and/or mine manager? David Wilkins is a senior traffic and transport engineer with SKM. He is also a Main Roads, Western Australia  Accredited Road Safety Auditor and has acted as an expert witness with respect to a minesite vehicle fatality. He answers these questions in the Australian context.

Mine site managers are legally responsible for the behaviour of drivers and the condition of vehicles on a mine site. For this reason, it is imperative for mine site managers to undertake regular audits, ensure changes are implemented and correct documentation recorded in order to reduce liabilities in the event of an incident.

Although Australia’s Mines Safety and Inspection Act (1994) and Mines Safety and Inspection Regulations (1995)  clearly outline the responsibilities of the principal employer and mine manager, what is less clear is how these responsibilities can be reasonably met. The Mines Safety and Inspection Act (1994) makes it clear that “The principal employer at, and the manager of, a mine must take such measures as are practicable to ensure that the mine and the means of access to and egress from the mine are such that persons who are at the mine, or use the means of access to or egress from the mine, are not exposed to hazards.”

The Mines Safety and Inspection Regulations (1995) states that the principal employer and the manager of a mine must ensure that all vehicles used at the mine are fitted with seat belts and that each responsible person at a mine must ensure that a motor vehicle is not used at the mine unless it is equipped and maintained with suitable brakes. It also requires that the manager of a mine must ensure that each vehicle has its brakes, headlights, tail lights and turn indicators tested and if  necessary adjusted by a competent person.

The Regulations also require that “The manager of a mine must implement such measures as are necessary to prevent inadvertent access to a surface mining operation by persons who are not employed at the mine or are not authorised to enter the mine.”

Yet few mine sites have sufficient security to restrict access only to vehicles that have been inspected and approved for use on the mine site. To implement such measures would restrict access to adjacent properties or to local communities. In these instances there appears to be competing legal requirements and it is recommended that legal advice be sought to determine how these responsibilities can be managed.

Currently there is no legislation or approvals process that requires mine site roads and associated infrastructure to be built to relevant standards. However, if there was an incident on a mine site road, it is highly likely that any ensuing legal process would look at whether roads and intersections were designed according to standards, if signs and barriers were correctly fabricated and positioned and if suitable induction processes were available to drivers prior to entering the site.

Site visits to mine sites have revealed non-standard sized signs, signs with no reflective qualities and inadequate road barriers that if breached by a vehicle, could have serious and potentially fatal consequences (for example, the vehicle could end up positioned across rail lines). A common sighting is ‘Stop’ signs installed on round poles – this makes them susceptible to be turned around to face the wrong way during heavy winds or if struck by a vehicle. A simple remedy is to use a standard sign on a standard rectangular hollow section post.

For public roads, state road authorities and local authorities design roads, barriers and signs in accordance with the relevant Australian Standards. A road safety audit is then often carried out to determine the need for any additional measures which could reduce the probability and/ or severity of consequences of incidents occurring. Road safety audits can be undertaken at any stage from initial concept design (feasibility) through to roads already in operation. 

So how can mine site managers demonstrate they have implemented all reasonable measures to discharge their responsibilities under the Act and Regulations?

Conducting a road safety audit of existing mine site roads using an accredited auditor would enable mine site managers to determine how their current roads, signs and barriers measure up against the relevant standards now, rather than doing so after an incident has occurred. It would also provide documentation (evidence) that reasonable steps had been undertaken to comply with mine site safety requirements. 

For proposed and future mine roads, roads and intersections should be designed to current Australian Standards with road safety audits conducted at appropriate stages.

Where works are planned on a road, a Roadworks Traffic Management Plan can be carried out to minimise the risks to workers and road users during the works as is currently required for public roads.

In the event of an incident occurring on a road within or leading to a mine site, the design plan, road safety audit report and traffic management plan can be used to demonstrate whether or not the responsibilities were discharged appropriately.