NT: lessons learned from WHS mining and petroleum regulation

The following article is a news item provided for the benefit of members. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety.
Friday, 18 December, 2020 - 12:15
Industry news
National News

The workplace fatality rate for the Northern Territory in the five years to 2018 was 3.0 per 100,000 workers – twice the national average.

One of the six workplace fatalities in 2019-20 was in the mining sector, but given the territory’s small population, AIHS College of Fellows Chair, Kym Bills, said this is “no cause for complacency”.

Extractive industries are very important in the Territory, with close to one-fifth of its economy reliant on mining including manganese, gold, bauxite, zinc and uranium oxide, said Bills, who recently delivered the keynote address for this year’s NT Symposium at the Darwin Convention Centre.

NT WorkSafe administers mining OHS via the 2011 WHS (NUL) Act 2011 & Regulations, and chapter 10 provides more detail on the mining sector.

While NT onshore petroleum extraction is embryonic, Bills said Beetaloo Basin shale gas is a major undeveloped resource.

Furthermore, offshore petroleum feeds NT LNG production in Darwin via the INPEX-led Ichthys and ConocoPhillips-led Darwin LNG facilities, and Bills noted that laws covering safety in this area are quite complex.

His address outlined some potential lessons for the NT from the 2008 Varanus Island high-pressure gas pipelines explosions (which he investigated) and he also spoke about the 2009 Montara offshore platform well blowout, fire and oil spill that was very similar to Deepwater Horizon in the US Gulf of Mexico.

The core of the presentation was on mine health and safety, drawing on a statutory review Bills conducted for the NSW Government, which lead to a 208-page report with 40 recommendations tabled by the Deputy Premier in the NSW Parliament on 5 November 2020.

Bills outlined earlier reports in NSW, WA and Queensland that were based on an analysis of mining fatalities.

In 2014 the Wilkinson Report considered fatalities in NSW mines ahead of introducing the WHS mine safety regulations with ‘non-core’ additions agreed through the National Mine Safety Framework.

There were three major recommendations:

  1. The Mine Safety Advisory Committee should consider how information on the implementation of risk controls for significant risks could be routinely collected, analysed and used to support a data led accident prevention strategy;
  2. Drawing on the discipline of Human Factors, including human and organisational factors expertise, identify the reasons which make it more likely risk controls will be successfully and reliably implemented; and
  3. Consider if the regulator should explicitly focus on critical controls for significant risks as part of an incident prevention strategy. The report was a basis for the NSW Resources Regulator to regulate mining as a high-risk industry and the legislation and regulation was extended to petroleum.


Bills said WA had concerns about safety in its mining industry as a result of a number of factors, including 52 fatalities between 2000 and 2012 that were reviewed in a 2014 Department of Mines and Petroleum Report.

The report found that “the major principal hazards identified in national model legislation correspond closely to those identified as the ten critical activities over the review period”. However, Bills said WA did not legislate the model WHS Act required to support the consolidated NMSF core and non-core model WHS drafting instructions agreed in 2011 until 3 November 2020 (there are to be three sets of accompanying WHS regulations covering general WHS, mining, and petroleum).

Furthermore, a December 2019 Review of all fatal accidents in Queensland mines and quarries from 2000 to 2019 (involving 47 fatalities) by Dr Sean Brady contains lessons for the NT in its 11 recommendations including:

  • use of high-reliability organisation principles to avoid complacency;
  • replacing the lost time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) as a safety indicator;
  • unambiguous and simplified incident reporting that encourages open reporting;
  • and quality of incident investigations by mining companies should be improved and strive to capture combinations of causal factors.


In the 2020 NSW WHS statutory review of mine and petroleum WHS legislation and regulation, Bills considered in detail submissions from unions, employers, specialists and others.

His presentation focused on the recommendations that might also apply to the NT, and these include:

  • Review WA WHS Mining and Petroleum Regs 2021 when finalised
  • Collaborate with major jurisdictions on safety and health data
  • Work with other jurisdictions to improve the quality of regulatory investigation and consider legislation to provide for separate ‘no blame’ ‘causal’ investigations by both the regulator and industry
  • Review capability and competence assurance processes and consider arrangements in WA, QLD and NSW
  • Consider the new August 2020 international standard for tailings dams
  • Review arrangements for sampling/monitoring silica and other dust
  • Review and consider adopting guidance from best practice jurisdictions in areas such as fatigue, incident notification, etc
  • Educate stakeholders on the meaning of ‘reasonably practicable’ and officer ‘due diligence’ – and undertake proactive regulatory action
  • Consider potential carbon capture and storage greenhouse gas abatement and how it will be regulated if a major project were to proceed.