More than 40 mines in Queensland have been shut down due to the recent floods, which have given rise a range of safety and legal issues that will have a significant impact on the operation of resources projects, according to a national law firm.
As such, mining companies will need to conduct OHS assessments of the changed operational conditions as floodwaters subside, with appropriate resources and procedures in place to ensure compliance with OHS obligations.
Robert Milbourne, a partner at Norton Rose, said Queensland's mining safety legislation requires those operating mines to ensure that risk is at an acceptable level through a Safety and Health Management System (SHMS) - which must include a Principal Hazard Management Plan (PHMP).
"A PHMP must be developed for any hazard that has the potential to cause multiple fatalities," he said.
"Where mines are close to watercourses or in other flood prone areas, you should address flooding as a part of their PHMPs," which should provide for adequate mechanisms to warn of potential flooding and guidance on the appropriate actions to take depending on the likelihood and severity of such flooding, he said.
Intense rain events, flood and inundation will also create environmental risk, said Milbourne in a recent legal update on the Queensland floods crisis.
"Flooding may cause sumps, environmental traps, tailing dams and mine water ponds to overflow or fail. Mismanagement of contaminated wastewater or unauthorised release of floodwaters may contravene environmental authorities and could lead to penalties and prosecutions," he said.
The Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) has been notified of 13 coal mines and 4 coal seam gas operations that have released water outside of their environmental authority conditions over the past two months, and even though there is an extraordinary cause from the flooding, Milbourne said the DERM will investigate the cause of these breaches and prosecutions may result.
"You should consider whether it is necessary to carry out additional water testing, and you may also need to consider the extent to which you are capable of complying with your remediation obligations under the mining/petroleum tenement given the impact of the floodwaters," he said.